Leadership Lessons from Master Chef Australia

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I have been watching Master Chef Australia for about five years now and it never fails to touch a chord. It is much more than a cooking reality show. While it does celebrate food, flavor, culinary skills, technique and presentation, it also packs in more lessons.

Watch how Gary, Matt and George don their roles as coaches and mentors and provide unmistakable lessons for leadership.

When the participants are cooking and racing against time, the trio steps in to provide that bit of valuable advice or to flag-off a potential cooking disaster. It is always done professionally and is always about the skill, technique, ingredient, speed and never about the person.
Take-Away for leaders:
Don’t wait till appraisal time to provide inputs or comments. Be involved, observe carefully and ensure you don’t set your team up for failure.

This is leadership in action! Watch every tasting ceremony and see how sensitivity, compassion and objectivity become the core values of an ‘appraisal’ or ‘review’. When the participant places the dish for the ultimate test of tasting, the judges’ body language and expression is neither condescending nor critical. The first remark, whatever the outcome would be, is always positive like –“Wow! That looks good”.

When the stakes are high, especially in an elimination round, every tasting is preceded with a personal conversation – “what’s driving you?”, “how did you do today?”, “is something bothering you?”. There’s so much empathy that is demonstrated, especially with the participant who has struggled the most or whose dish is showing problems.

We see expert, incisive knowledge as the basis of observations and comments. Even though the viewers aren’t tasting the dish, we know exactly what went right or awry with the flavour, technique or ingredient. No personal biases come in the way.

Take-Away for leaders:
Demonstrate deep domain knowledge and let objectivity and fairness ride supreme. This way the candidate is completely enrolled in your evaluation and respects the decision. And don’t fake the personal conversation. Insincerity is always detected.

The judges clearly spell out reasons for their score and you can’t fault their verdict.  The good points are unfailingly highlighted, along with the poor ones. In a close tie, the ultimate parameters are flavor and balance. Presentation, hard work, team spirit all get their due. But when its down to the last crumb and every dish is a visual treat, then it is all about the core value – how did the food taste.

Take-Away for leaders:
Let your employee know exactly the reason behind your scores and always align performance to the ultimate objective or core value of the role/project.

This is when the participant with the lowest score gets eliminated from the show. And how! The best moments are showcased, strengths and achievements are celebrated and the participant is reminded of his/her goal or dream.

What’s beautiful is that much after the elimination, the last frame tells the viewers about the participant’s current journey and success – “We wish you well”, “We know you’ll do well” “We’ll look out for you”.


About the author:

Azra Fathima is a communication expert. In her own words –

“I architect highly coherent strategies that help organisations and teams to move from an idea to a successful, repeatable and sustainable outcome.

While leading strategic and global marketing (focus on US, UK and India) in multinational companies across technology and related industries, I have also instituted landmark initiatives and strategic properties that are supported with robust implementation plans. These have helped organisations to make quantum leaps in their stated objectives.

My core competencies include communication; writing; organisational strategy; marketing strategy; brand transformation; messaging; content strategy; content management, demand generation and high operational efficiency.

I love writing and am featured among HuffPost’s signature lineup of contributors for their blog page.”

For more, please read here – https://in.linkedin.com/in/azrafathima


How unique! Everyone has a differentiator

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.01.29 pmYOU have set up a new business or a new practice within your existing business.

You think you have something unique to offer.

You find out that:

EVERYONE ELSE has a “differentiator”. And almost everyone has proof points.

YOUR PROSPECTS do not look at your offering as unique.

THE CHALLENGE IS NOT about getting initial customer attention.

THE CHALLENGE IS about breaking their resistance to buy into your story.

IT’S WHERE sales and marketing folks struggle most – to be seen, and to be heard.

“I’ll see it when I believe it”

The battleground for getting customer / investor attention has shifted. It’s at a treacherous paradigm called “I’ll see it when I believe it”.

Clients/prospects/investors on the other side are surveying hundreds of offerings, promises and differentiators.

To them everything looks the same. That’s the single biggest reason for the stubborn mindset – “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

Communication managers have a real opportunity here to take control and change the filters through which the narrative is being viewed. And it goes beyond clever headlines, enthralling graphics and creative content.

Design thinking for communication

We can have the best innovation designed in our labs.

But how do we get our prospects to have a conversation about it?

It’s only logical that innovation in communication follows innovation in product and process.

When applied to communication, design thinking will transform the way we navigate and get in front of the customers; to get their attention and to get their active participation in our narrative.

Five key attributes of design thinking for communication

Listening is everything

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  – Larry King

It’s not a new rule and it will never go away.

Executive interviews, client questions, prospect objections, conversations, data, analytics, observations – everything contributes to valuable insights. Teams should place themselves at the intersection of their organisation and the client and listen keenly to both ends of the spectrum – the client end and the organisation end. Design thinking begins here.

“Your problem”, “your customers”, “your outcomes”

Despite all the focus, when it comes to communication, most websites, emails, presentations and collateral will reveal a routine disregard for customer centricity.

Clients may not come knocking on the door, asking for a solution. But the truth is they are looking for answers to their problems.

Nothing can change the deep cynicism that sets in when the communication landscape continues to be littered with stereotype phrases like “our solution”, “our methodology”, “our process”, “our differentiator”, “our success” and “why us”.

Customer-centricity needs to move from being the rhetoric of an annual strategy meet to real action in every sphere of the business.

It takes immense courage and conviction to break away from the focus on “us” to “you”.

In marketing, we hear the oft-repeated phrase “does it resonate?” In design thinking, the first principle is empathy.

When there is empathy, communication will resonate. Empathy also means deep customisation of the communication plan that endeavours to address the client concerns.

Ask the right questions

The process of design thinking requires us to ask questions that will evoke compelling answers leading to a persuasive and well-founded communication plan. Examples:

  • Question: What information do we have about the client/prospect
    Change to: What is the prospect mindset?
  • Question: How do we showcase our value proposition?
    Change to: What is the client’s biggest problem?
  • Question: What communication channels do we use?
    Change to: Where, when and how will the client want to see the communication?
  • Question: What call for action should we include?
    Change to: How can we get the client to be excited to have meaningful conversations?

Don’t tell. Show

That golden rule is not just for book writers. It’s where social media has already gone – Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Pinterest and even Twitter.

Visual, tactile and tangible outputs have an incredible impact on storytelling.

Watch the Volvo Trucks video of the Epic Split Feat by Van Damme, Live Test here  and see how spectacular cinematography, a minimal but powerful narrative and haunting music come together in a riveting video that demonstrates the stability and precision of Volvo dynamic steering.

So little said; but so much conveyed in just one minute and 17 seconds.

It went viral on YouTube with nearly 68 million views.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Volvo Truck sales rose 31 percent in November 2013. An email or a page on the website wouldn’t have done that.

Communication teams will need to work with design, engineering, analytics, technology, operations and digital marketing teams to integrate message with channel and create narratives that will defy stubborn mindsets.

White boarding with simple sketches and patterns to design the communication journey is a great place to start.

Call to converse – A different kind of call to action

A call to action can no longer be asking the client to reply with an appointment, download a brochure, make a call, view a film, fill a form or scan a QR code.

Design thinking requires ‘call to action’ to evolve to ‘call to converse’.

It’s about getting the customer to participate in the uniqueness of your innovation and getting them to engage with your solution and having meaningful conversations.

Not a department function, but an organisational strategy

Design thinking for communication will have to be deployed as an organisational strategy. It can work for marketing and communication only when it works for the organisation as a whole.

When done well, the communication plan can break new ground to overcome the existing mindset “I’ll see when I believe it.”


Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, President and CEO, IDEO. For more, please read here.

“In its simplest form, design thinking is a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems. It is not limited to a specific industry or area of expertise.” – Kaan Turnali, Global Senior Director, Enterprise Analytics, SAP. For more, please read this Forbes article here.