3 Options When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

Chef fire fighter

When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Are people still saying it and I’m just not hearing it?

Either way, I love a good analogy to help me think through a topic. And, I think the phrase applies in leadership. And, I’m not sure getting out of the leadership kitchen when it gets too hot is the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat” – the stress of leadership? 

Do you feel you are in over your head? 

Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and are you, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? 

Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? (Perception is often more powerful than reality.) Are you stuck and wondering what to do next?

I have been there numerous times as a leader.

At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t. When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of fast growing churches, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do.

The heat in the kitchen was more than I could bear.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership – use the analogy of the “heat in the leadership kitchen”.

I think you have 3 options:

Get out of the kitchen

There’s always that. Let’s be honest and admit you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role – just not this one – or in this organization. My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future – when everyone else discovers you’re out of your league or misfit. 

Learn from better cooks

Continuing with the kitchen analogy, perhaps the oven temperature is set too high. You may be using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have. Chances are good an outside look can see things you don’t see. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) done alone. Find mentors willing to invest in you. This often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it. But, the best leaders occasionally need help and great leaders aren’t too proud to ask for it. I’ve also discovered seasoned leaders feel honored to ask. (And, as a Christian leader, remember God is on your side and He may be waiting for you to surrender before He jumps in to help.)

Improve the kitchen

Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger. Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader. I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out – but there may be other options.

Got any other kitchen leadership analogies you’d care to share?

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14 thoughts on “3 Options When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

  1. There's a fourth option, but it really depends on your situation and your ability to handle a different kind of heat. I'll use myself as an example:

    I can lead. The few times that I've had the number one spot, I've demonstrated this in spades. However, something in my demeanor or leadership style doesn't commend me to many people as a capable leader despite my track record. Many of the leaders I serve under are capable, but often not as capable as I am. Thus the fourth option:

    Move for putting someone in the lead spot who inspires others to have confidence in him with you in the second position and lead up. This is difficult to handle for a lot of leaders. This is a heat all its own because it means placing the needs of the organization above your own and letting someone else take credit for your successes. It also takes a special kind of leadership to be able to lead through someone else who is calling the shots without being manipulative and compromising your integrity. In fact, building the trust of the person in the number one spot is imperative for making the whole thing work.

  2. Great analogy Ron. Wondering what kind of kitchen leadership analogy I could have used with the Chicago Cutlery?

  3. Ron, thanks for a very practical post and a great analogy. I don't have a good analogy to share, but can speak to the truth of learning from better cooks, which is a season that I'm currently in.

  4. If the biscuits burn….scrap the cooking and go out to eat!

    It's ok to start fresh on square one if things get nowhere, get stalled, or if it gets out of control.

    Love the post, made me hungry. : )