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Cooking, meditation, leadership

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

I know, I know, I have a hammer and now everything looks like a nail...

Perhaps the way we (or at least I) think of leadership is too broad of a term, or perhaps it is too narrow.

In the Oxford dictionary, leadership means

the state or position of being a leader


the ability to be a leader or the qualities a good leader should have

I must say: I love cooking. I'm not great at it, mind you, but I still love it. We've recently had our kitchen redone, and I've been on a spree to cook with the ingredients close to expiry date.

Cooking gives me huge pleasure. Making something out of components, something that is more valuable (enjoyment of eating it) than the sum of its components. The spice rack(s) nicely aligned in their little labeled jars. Yes, I've got a label maker; yes the label maker has a label on it called "label maker".

The spice rack. Paprika from my mom, my never-missing cayenne pepper supplies, the spicy pepper flakes from Bhutan, the dried and bagged Chipotles, the Mojo Rojo mix from Gran Canaria. Every time I look at them, touch them with my fingers, I'm taken back to those trips, those experiences, the amazing food we had (and the less amazing one at times), but never-failing the amazing people I got the fortune to encounter and witness the work of their hands. So much variety, so much culture and love in each and every spice.

Spices, somewhere during travels

Today is left-over day. Some old rice from the Thorsday's Thai green curry, some old meat from Friday's tan-tan ramen. Hmm... Should it be a dish with rice, or something else? Rice is great for mango sticky rice, I've got the coconut milk, but no mango (also not in season). Ok, not quite feeling it, the rice. Maybe it can wait another day.

How about the meat? Hmm... My mind is still on those chipotles. They're running bad soon. And I seem to recall a roll of tortillas soon to expire. Mexican soup it is! 2 carrots, 3 potatoes and a can of beans later, alongside left-overs, and we're ready for an amazing dinner.

Mexican soup from left-overs

There was a time where I had to take my meetings while preparing food. I'll never forget my colleague Abhi not quite understanding initially what I was doing with my rice, and then his comment:

you don't waste anything, do you? the same as you do with work in our team

That's probably one the biggest compliments a colleague ever paid me. Yes, I try very hard to do the best with what I have. I try to grow the potential of the little I have to work with. What it can be, or can become (old rice I'd otherwise compost if it had gone bad, or turn into an amazing Thai dessert if it hadn't gone bad).

I reflect on this inner leadership concept. I don't know how the role-model leaders are in their private life, but I think it would say a lot about them as leaders. I don't believe in leadership at work. You're either a leader, or you're not, at work or at home or in your group of friends.

Cooking is making something that's more than the sum of their ingredients. And the quality of each ingredient, their story and their variety and background can be tasted in an amazing dish. My team, each and every one of them more impressive than the other, little or nothing I can teach them, lots to learn from each of them. Together, they are more than the sum of each of their skills. And my role is to bring them together, and to be a serving leader to them, to take away anything that may stand in the way of their success. To eliminate waste, especially wasted potential. To help them bring their entire skillset into the mix and shine through into the most amazing thing we can build together. Something that is more than the sum of us. Or that's my goal, however successful or not I might be at it.

Someone said that if you want to change the world, then make your bed in the morning. This will teach you encouragement from the success of even getting a small thing done, the value of small things, and discipline. Discipline your house; discipline your mind.

In 4000 weeks, Oliver Burkeman makes the case of allowing things to take their time. When I cook, and when I do the dishes, that's my patience-building activity. I simply cannot speed them up. If the heat is too high, food may burn. I need it just right, and I need to pay attention to it. Also, there's a limit to how fast I can do the dishes till they are not cleaned well or I end up breaking one or two. And yes, Mr. Burkeman, I'll try to stare for 3h to a piece of art as well, soon. I'm building up to that.

What have I learned? As Dirk Gently postulates, everything is connected. The food, the ingredients, the act of bringing them all together through cooking (the cooking), the patience and mindfulness to the present moment (the meditation), the passion for the ingredients, the process, the story of becoming (the leadership).


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