Fireside Chat: What’s your leadership recipe?


When being in a leadership role, what are some ways to know when to be firm towards a particular situation, and when to be encouraging. Is it better to be a firm leader, a friendly leader, or a mixture of both?


A good brother asked me this recently, and I thought I’d share a more nuanced answer here for all of you.

If you remember anything from this post, remember this:

Relationships are not recipes.

Many blogs we’re used to are addicted to giving you advice that works like a recipe. Think about it: how many blogs have you seen this year that have a list attached to them? Count it you’d like; it might take a while. Take 1/4 cup sympathy, 3/4 pounds of wisdom, a pinch of reality, and heat until 450 degrees, and your life will be perfect. Even if the authors didn’t mean for their columns to be cure-alls, they’re sure read that way by our society.

In the world we live in, however, that type of post is dangerous. Many situations are much too complicated to ascribe advice towards without more context.

That being said, when acting as a leader, how should your leadership style change? Let me give you a few examples. If what I’ve done.


One certain instance was during my Aerospace design course, where we learn how to design a 777 Boeing jet equivalent. At the start of the class, we had to decide which students would take over which aspects of the project.

In many instances during my coursework, like this one, I’ve been in groups where other students were all too scared to make the first move. It wasn’t that they weren’t capable, it’s that empty space before a decision is made was too pregnant with insecurity.

In this situation, we were trying to decide who would be the leader of the group; and noone felt compelled. I decided to raise my voice, and become the leader for the semester. Mind you, I wouldn’t gain any recognition for leading the project, everyone was just interested in graduating. I did it, however, because I knew someone needed to step into the position to get it done.

The task was more than just delegation, however; throughout the entire semester, the leader had to tie up loose ends that didn’t have a home in any of the other positions the other students held. Believe me, I cleaned up many loose ends, I learned on the fly optimization coding, center-of-mass calculations, and more I can’t recall. Just because I did these things, however, didn’t mean I was better than anyone else; I just had a different position, and I had to respect all the other group members for the experience they were bringing to the table.

What’s that an example of? Firmness. But also, servitude towards the cause, and a clear understanding of one’s own capabilities.


However, leadership come in the form of mentorship as well. In the metaphorical body of success, if networking is the skeleton, then mentorship is the lifeblood. To do it well, it requires understanding, an open ear, precious time, and many times, a closed mouth. Your mentee came not just to hear your input, but to speak her mind.

Many of my mentees ask for help from me not because their problem is complex, but because there’s no one else available at the time to keep their ears open about the issues. Understanding their space in their issue, and making them feel like someone considers them valuable, is important in any mentor-mentee relationship.

However, firmness might be necessary; mentees might come to you to hear the piece of honesty they know they won’t get from anyone else. It might taste bitter when first heard, but they know, and you know, it’s good for them in the end.

Mentors are not meant to be heroes; a symbolic representation of important tenets that you hold dear. They can have both aspects of firmness and kindness; in fact thats probably why mentees come to them in the first place.


So, what does this all mean? Let’s go back to the cooking metaphor; you might have a recipe, but if you’re doing it well, you’re really cooking like my mother. You add what feels right, you practice it a LOT, and you learn from your mistakes. Because, mistakes are bound to happen.

So, is your leadership recipe, firm, or compassionate? Or both? What else is involved?

Who knows? Just get cooking.


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