I wish that I had duck feet
…and I can tell you why.
You can splash around in duck feet.
You don’t have to keep them dry.
I loved reading this wonderful children’s book by Dr. Seuss to my three boys when they were young. First published in 1965 and with cartoon illustrations, it’s a simple story about a boy who wishes that he could have different animal parts such as duck feet, a whale spout and a long, long tail. He thinks this will give him an advantage over his nemesis Big Bill Brown. The boy quickly finds out there are consequences to pretending to be someone else.
It got me thinking about how we adopt certain styles of leadership depending on the business situation we find ourselves in – it could be to connect more fully with customers; to launch a new product to stay ahead of competitors; to adapt strategically when uncertain times emerge or to simply be excellent communicators and motivate our team. What should a good leader look like? Is there such a thing as a Natural Born Leader and if the aliens landed tomorrow demanding: ‘Take Me to Your Leader!’ where would they go?
Setting up and running Maurizio Dining & Co. with my husband in August 2016 was a huge learning curve. Along the way I discovered some interesting things about myself (who knew I hadenough resilience to work with the husband!) and in hospitality, an area of business that initially I knew nothing about (love eating pizza but selling it was a new concept). Having a blended career means there’s definitely overlap in skills and attitude. My part-time work as a Video Producer is creative and it comes more naturally to me as I’ve been in the industry of broadcast television (firstly as a runner on a show called Beadle’s About!), and then video communications (mostly in education) for over 25 years. But nothing really prepares you for starting a new business as much as taking a risk and just getting stuck in.
Adventures in Pasta Land: How Not To Start A Food Business
It began so quickly that we barely had time to think. But I soon learned that this suited my leadership style well. In February 2017 we launched A Valentine’s Venetian Dinner and Drink pop-up event in an empty shop on Mill Road, Cambridge. Within two weeks we had the challenge to source ingredients, produce and price menus, market the event, sell tickets and run the evening making sure all 40 diners had delicious food and drink to enjoyplus a great ambience to be in. It confirmed to me that, despite the pressures of troubleshooting right up to opening, I’m driven by deadlines, enjoy a challenge, can lead a project creatively and be innovative on a tight budget.
The night was a huge success and within three months we’d opened permanently as a small, local, independent Italian kitchen and wine bar. It really was a case of frugal innovation – a concept that Professor Jaideep Prabhu from University of Cambridge says is: ‘Doing more with less – whatever your location’. It’s about adopting a mindset of keeping things simple for maximum effect. Since then, I’ve tried to keep this in focus when making decisions. Here’s what’s helped me so far:• Mentoring. We were lucky enough to find a neutral voice with oodles of business experience. He helped us see different viewpoints and find solutions to move forward.Perfect at managing our different personalities, understanding our vision and giving advice.• Networking. Join like-minded groups and communities where you can build relationships and contacts to share ideasand keep learning. Locally I found the resources and short courses at EnterpriseWOMEN useful: https://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/insight/2019/entrepreneurial-myths/ and to connect nationwide I like: https://f-entrepreneur.com/about-us/• Investing in my team. Having the right personalities on board can complement your strengths and weaknesses. It’s an on-going process but a range of experience and diversity certainly helps – we’re about to employ an apprentice pizza maker who will grow professionally alongside our business.• Being creative. Thinking outside the box can bring new ideas to the forefront. Our brainstorming sessions have resulted in delicious food and drink additions to our menu. Pasta with chocolate? Er, no thanks but our Sofia Loren pizza is a firm favourite.• Trusting my senses. At first, I found it difficult to listen to customers who didn’t enjoy their dining experience. But I learned that all feedback is valuable and it’s okay to get it wrong…as long as we then put it right.• Taking time out. It’s so important to relax and spend quality time away from the business. One of our team sayings is: “And don’t forget to breathe!” Keeping your sense of humour is essential to get through tricky times.
Psychologist Kurt Lewin says there are three main leadership styles but of course there are many more: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/leadership-styles explains these in a bit more detail.
Keeping leadership fluid and transformational is what works best for me as I’m not a natural leader as such. But we do all lead in some way or other at some point in our lives, even if we don’trealise it at the time. Whether it’s taking charge of family life, standing up for ourselves at work or diving into a new venture, leadership exists in many shapes and forms.
We’re Not Saving Lives, Just Cooking Pizzas And Pastas
I think it’s important to remember perspective. This can be easy to forget especially when things sometimes go wrong (power cut in the middle of service, dealing with unreliable suppliers or having to pivot in a pandemic).
We’ve created our 3E philosophy to help us maintain perspective.The 3Es are:
ENHANCE our customers’ dining experience (and we’re proud to say we’re finalists in the Cambridge News Business Excellence Awards).
ENCOURAGE working in a collaborative way as this helps to build our brand more organically.
EMPOWER our team to be the best they can be by encouraging a flexible and inclusive working culture where all ideas and opinions are welcome.
It’s okay not to have all the answers straight away as I believe sometimes there is no right or wrong decision to be made. I think of myself driving along my own business journey with lots of spaghetti junctions along the way. There are traffic lights that make you stop and reflect; fast lanes when you have a deadline; roundabouts to revisit a problem; hitting the curbside when it all goes a bit wrong; dead ends when it’s time to move on and success when you find that perfect parking space. The point is,whatever the adventure, I’ll get there in the end.
As Dr. Seuss says at the end of I Wish I Had Duck Feet:
there are some things
I do not wish to be.
And that is why
I think that I
just wish to be like ME.
Be your authentic self and lead the way that works best for you.
Contact Sweet Gill D’Apollonio at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect on social media @mauriziodining