I connected with Matthew Weilert via Twitter about a year ago. An engineer by training, and a systems thinker by profession, he is writing a new book Leadership Lessons of a Sushi Chef. In conducting his primary researach, Matthew worked as an embedded sushi contractor at a major grocery chain for several weeks.
As I learned to make sushi, and being a recovering engineer, I applied time and motion studies to the ancient practice of creating these perishable artworks that must be consumed within a day. Suffice to say that every process can be improved, even those with mystique and long-standing traditions.
Those improvements – when applied effectively – weave together the best threads in the fabric of humanity: the seamless garment that binds us together is not shared knowledge or common technology, but the far deeper shared appreciation of excellence for its own sake.
From the finesse that a sushi chef displays in the daily delivery of her craft, I learned that flair is a key component of their product for sale – it’s more than something to eat; it’s food artistry! In fact, artistry is a watchword more vital than ever in this world that has veered off substance into the whirlpools of appearance. One master marketer defined your core business is that which remains after your top three suppliers and/or clients vanish.
1. With soft, smooth strokes with just enough force but not too much – the blade has to be really sharp – the chef varies the blade’s speed and angle as she moves the knife deftly toward the tail.
2. When done correctly, the chef gracefully slides the blade through the middle of the shrimp, all the way to the tip of the tail, at the same time as she shifts the pressure from her fore and index fingers to the ring finger right on the tip of the tail.
3. To get a clean tail cut, the follow-through is just as important as in a golf swing.
Here are the lessons I learned about in leading, managing and serving others from making sushi:
1. The value of doing things that don’t scale.
2 Artistry draws people in because it gives irresistible evidence of what lies beneath the surface, like the “iceberg effect” in capax dei.
3. Artistry is discipline on display. This reminded me that when Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty, he fully fashioned the hair, even though helicopters and planes had not been invented.
4. Through this immersive experience, I’ve learned both as an author and as an industry pioneer in risk engineering, artistry means that the “food for thought” we’re crafting has to be even richer and more delicious 3-5 layers deep (at the center of the sushi roll), when that level of granular detail is required in our, or our clients’, businesses.
5. I learned to embrace the mundane, to give every task my best effort. Essentials like washing rice and slicing carrots have little to do with global leadership in risk engineering, but everything to do with gaining spiritual maturity and leadership.
My time as a trainee sushi chef was more than just fun, it was fascinating. It didn’t involve the pressure and perfection demanded at a Tokyo Michelin-starred sushi restaurant, it was a rewarding experience and substantially informed the leadership lessons that I’ll share in my book.
If you’ve got a leadership lesson to share, please reach out on LinkedIn.
Matthew Weilert, (Texas A&M ’84), helps leaders and the people they serve, to achieve profound clarity in seeing the entire value chain, through the lens of faith. Advising billion-dollar brands like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Bacardi, GM and the U.S. Navy on what it takes to go from “good to great” in performance improvements (ops & finance), he is a “global mindset thinker” (Thunderbird 2011), who has the privilege of working with networks of leaders across industries (see http://globe.systemkey.net). Contact Matt via firstname.lastname@example.org or direct connect on LinkedIn.