Baker's 10: Lessons in Leadership Roles From The Great British Baking Show

While most of my friends and colleagues debate the recent episodes of “Game Of Thrones” or even “Bachelor in Paradise,” I prefer to offer insights from my favorite TV indulgence,  “The Great British Baking Show.”I know what it lacks in plot, costuming and fast action, it far makes up for in life and leadership lessons.Earlier this month,  Candice was awarded the top prize of best baker, lauded by top judge Mary Berry as having great “determination and passion.”[bctt tweet=“What #GreatBritishBakingShow lacks in fast action, it far makes up for in #leadershiplessons” username=“takeleadwomen”]Berry, who is 82, and the author of 75 cookbooks, is also herself a lesson in leadership, determination and  passion as she is off to start her own show on PBS, Britain’s Best Cook.   The GBBSshow will continue next season with new hosts and a new judge in addition to Hollywood.Berry judged the ABC version in this country, “The Great American Baking Show,” also offering her sharp and deliberate critiques of every technical bake.Tuning in each week for the 10-episodes that whittled down contestants from 12 to three to one, the intense competition was offset by the bucolic surroundings and the triumphs of flake pastry played out against the failures of a cake’s soggy bottom. Here are 10 valuable lessons in leadership and team-building culled from watching the exquisite attempts at imaginative baking and the display of profound culinary skills.

  1. Learn from a diverse team. Bakers of different ages, occupations, genders, skillsets, approaches, ethnicities, origin stories and interests fill the tent. Next seasons’ team of bakers was recently announced, and it also promises to be a diverse group. New ideas, new inspiration and approaches are contagious when they come from team members who do not share the same backgrounds or approaches. [bctt tweet=“New ideas, new #inspiration and approaches are contagious when they come from a diverse team “ username=“takeleadwomen”]

  2. Give clear instructions but allow for creativity. Some of the technical challenges in the weekly bakes arrived with explicit, detailed recipes that must be followed to the second. Other assignments were offered simply with an instruction to make a savory appetizer or amuse bouche. Whether you are instructing your team to make cake, biscuits, bread, pastry or a showstopper, communicate clearly, but leave room for individual creativity and innovation.

  3. Set clear deadlines. The two judges, Berry and Paul Hollywood, offered their insight and brief introductions, but the hosts gave explicit deadlines, saying you have two hours to complete this, and reminded the bakers at regular intervals of how much time they have left. Not that you need to do this every day to remind your team when to go home, but on specific projects, send regular reminders of the due date and completion expectation. Check in to see how each team member is doing along the way.

  4. Expect failures. As the amateur bakers each week produced exquisite edible productions, there was also the regular failure of a burnt crust, a fallen soufflé, a melting glaze, an overbearing addition of licorice or cumin. Knowing how to lead your team back from a failure is as important as witnessing the success.[bctt tweet=“Knowing how to lead your team back from a #failure is as important as witnessing the #success” username=“takeleadwomen”]

  5. Offer careful, critical feedback. Each week Hollywood and Berry offered specifics as to why a bake failed or succeeded. They never just say, “good job.” Be very detailed in your feedback to team members so they can know the cake was not done in the middle because of the rhubarb. The same is true as when a team member has a successful project. Say why the orange cake worked well and show that you notice the care it took to achieve the win.

  6. Offer regular applause and awards. This does not have to go back to preschool days when everyone gets a sticker for something, but you can regularly offer “team member of the week” or monthly announcements. Perhaps in weekly staff meetings acknowledge someone on the team who has gone beyond expectation in performance or delivery of a project.

  7. Stay calm and carry on. Even when the bakers say they might be freaking out or panicking, they never seem to completely lose their cool. I am not sure if that is because it’s a British baking show, but everyone is civil to each other and there is not meanness or spite visible in any encounter. Bakers seem sincerely pleased with another’s success, even while they seem extremely disappointed in their individual shortcomings.

  8. Save room for humor. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, hosts of the show, offer jokes and levity especially nearing the deadline for the bake. They demonstrate that you can be friendly under pressure and that no one on the team should be unkind to another, even though it is a competition. You don’t have to tell jokes all day long, but you can insert some humor now and then at meetings and staff updates.

  9. Presentation matters. If I had a tablespoon of sugar for every time a judge would say it tastes great, but it does not look good, well, you know. Over the top floral arrangements, spun sugar and icing can make up for a lot, and it does matter completely if what you produce is appealing. Keep that in mind no matter what is the product or content you produce. It has to look good as well as feel good and perform well.

  10. Do your best and leave it alone. Perhaps one of the best lessons in leadership offered by this baking show is that you can be extravagant and over the top in your methods of preparation and decoration, but at some point, you have to put your creation in the oven and leave it alone. And as a leader you need to advise your team to just let a project be and to stop fussing with it. As Gloria Feldt, co-foudner and president of Take The Lead, advises in her 9 Leadership Power Tools, “Use what you’ve got.” For Power Tool #3, Feldt says, “What you need is almost always there. See it and use it with courage. Because power unused is power useless.”

Want more Take The Lead posts like this? Sign up to receive the Take The Lead newsletter each week. Learn more about Take The Lead training programs here.