A tale of baking bread highlights the #1 Element of Great Leadership as Michelle Yozzo Drake explains the powerful connection leaders have with those they lead and mentor.
One of the most influential leaders and greatest influences in my life was my Great Aunt Jennie (Giovanna). She is the focus of one of the stories in my book From the Kitchen to the Corner Office: Mom's Secret Recipes for Success REVEALED! Aunt Jennie taught me how to bake bread, and the way that she taught me was a blueprint of leadership for me.
Aunt Jennie made me believe that I had everything in me - the recipe, the skills - to make loaves of bread that were as delicious as hers were. She never handed me a recipe card or stepped in front of that bowl of flour to do it for me. Instead, she sat by the table spread out with all the ingredients, and she watched me with a twinkle in her eye as I attempted again and again to make a perfect loaf of bread. After my first attempt had the texture, taste and weight of a concrete brick, I remember being frustrated and saying to her, "Aunt Jennie, please just give me the recipe!" Her response to me was always the same: "Ah, Michelina. You have the recipe already; it's in you. You've watched me since you were a little girl, and now it's time to make your own." And so I would try again.
Loaf after loaf was awful because, as bakers out there know, so many things can go wrong in a recipe. Too much flour; not enough flour. Bad yeast. Water that was too cold. Old baking powder. I often felt like giving up, but Aunt Jennie was right there to nudge me along with a little teasing and a lot of encouragement to try something different the next time.
Eventually, after plenty of mistakes and even more perseverance, I started to choose the right ingredients in the proper amounts and to get into my rhythm in the kneading - a crucial part to making good bread. We would do ten pounds of flour at a time with no breadmaker! It took a lot of elbow grease to get that dough to come together!
The more I did, the better I got at it and before long, I started to emerge as my own breadmaker. Then I started getting brave and going the extra mile with my bread recipe, adding fresh new ingredients like caramlized onions and sundried tomatoes and roasted garlic and herbs. I had the confidence in my ability as a breadmaker to experiment with what had truly become my bread recipe because of the way Aunt Jennie taught me. She didn't teach me by doing it for me; she taught me by forcing me to step up to the table, to lift those bags of flour and cups of yeast and water, to get my hands right there into the dough. And she would be there by my side, guiding me and telling me to believe in myself and my ability as a breadmaker.
Aunt Jennie was a leader in my life, my mentor, and she taught me that the key to great leadership is knowing how to bring out the best in your team and teaching them to believe in themselves and their skills so they can achieve limitless success.
As a Communication Strategist and coach, I mentor a young filmmaker named Shalini Kantayya who most recently appeared as a contestant on the reality show "On the Lot" produced by Steven Spielberg. While working with Shalini, I remember how Aunt Jennie taught me to bake bread and I apply that same style of leadership to my sessions with Shalini. I believe in her and I tirelessly encourage her to believe in herself. In everything we do during our sessions, I stand back and nudge her forward, always there to guide her but never taking over and doing anything for her.
We all have "Aunt Jennie" types in our lives, mentors and leaders and role models, and some of us are those people in others' lives as well.