Let’s face it – everyone likes to win, and nobody likes to lose.  I’m not sure if it is genetic or environmental, but our mental, physical, and emotional state is connected to the result of winning.  Some of us know that winning takes loads of hard work, conditioning, and focus, while others hope they can win without the effort.  But, regardless of the level of commitment to the end, we all try to avoid losing. 

There are so many parallels in life that evolve around the reality of winning and as such it may be wise to try and learn something from it.  So, here it is – the mantra to live by and the importance of this topic to those of us who spend a lifetime in kitchens:  PEOPLE WANT TO ALIGN WITH WINNERS AND WORK FOR WINNING ORGANIZATIONS – PERIOD!  It sounds nice to espouse the cliche: “It’s not whether you win or lose that matters, it’s how you play the game”, but if how you play the game leads to losing – there is little inspiration in the noble approach.  The reality is it DOES matter if you win or lose AND it does matter that you play the game fairly, honestly, and with integrity.  Winning feels good, losing does not.

Okay, so maybe how we define winning needs to evolve. In some instances – winning is not always based on a score: “He who accumulates the most points wins”, but we do know when a “win” has been achieved no matter how it is measured.  Sometimes it simply means how you feel – whether you are satisfied with the results.  But then we need to more clearly define the word “satisfied”. Did you meet yours or someone else’s expectations?  Were your standards met, goals achieved, was progress made?  In some way, shape, or form, there is a carrot at the end of the stick; something that either you established, a peer defined, or a boss/leader imposed.  Reaching for that carrot may be enough to keep you going, reaching that carrot will help to fulfill you, and pushing the carrot even further out will either inspire or frustrate you.  Measuring how the “carrot rule”, is applied is the job of the coach, manager, or in our case chef.


The role of the owner – whether he or she owns a football, baseball, hockey, or basketball team is to provide the necessary tools towards the vision of winning and define how far out the initial carrot is held. “We expect to win a Superbowl, World Series, NBA final, or Stanley Cup”.  Now, what will it take, in terms of people and materials to reach that goal?  In terms of a restaurant, it might be: “We expect to grow our business by 20%, win the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, earn a Michelin Star, or reach a profit after taxes of 9%”. Now what will it take in terms of staff members and resources to reach that goal?  The “winning carrot” is what drives all decisions, attracts the best people, defines how outsiders will perceive the business, and creates interest in what the business is doing.  No one – I repeat – NO ONE – will ever be excited about a business (sporting team or restaurant) with lackluster goals, or none at all. The most exciting and attractive businesses begin with BIG, BODACIOUS GOALS of WINNING!


The leader is responsible for creating the game plan and the learning organization that makes a win possible.  Without a game plan a business is simply hoping for the best.  That NEVER works! The leader/coach will study the competition, analyze the environment around the organization, inventory the individual and collective talent of his or her players/employees, and structure an approach geared towards grabbing the carrot. The structure is based on logic and a touch of gambling.  Mostly methodical once an understanding of the playing field is in hand, it is always inspiring when a coach/leader throws in a curve ball, a trick play, or an unexpected new menu item or style of service – something that makes the competition scratch their heads, and fans jump out of their seats. It is a game of chess where the most effective leaders are thinking four or five moves ahead trying to figure out how the competition is most likely going to react.  When played correctly, everyone is stoked with anticipation of that next move, a change in strategy – the trick play.  This is what pulls people in and keeps them engaged.  This is what inspires people to jump on board and give their best.


It was Coach Belichick whose message to players was: “Do your job”.  Of course, this is what they get paid to do, but does this truly make them jump up and feel that adrenaline course through their veins?  Now, in all fairness, I assume the coach offered more inspiration than simply do what you are told, but it is an approach so many leaders and coaches run their organizations with.  The players or employees need to feel it, they need to be part of the plan for grabbing the carrot, they need to feel properly prepared to perform at the highest level and, they need to be told how they are doing along the way.  It is, after all, the player or in the case of the restaurant – the cooks, dish washers, servers, and bartenders who will do the actual work of reaching for the carrot. 

One of the most important statements about leadership and management I ever heard has stuck with me for decades: “If you are not serving the customer (fan) directly, then your job is to serve the person who is.”  The leader’s/coach’s job is to make sure players and staff members have the tools, the skills, and the shared vision to reach the carrot.  It is the job of the player/staff member to use the skills and tools provided in pursuit of the organizational goals.  This is likely what Coach Belichick means by: “Do your job.”


Often referred to as the 12th man, the fan or guest has a role to play in grabbing the carrot and pushing it even further out after it is in hand.  Cheering on those members of the team and their coaches, serving as vocal ambassadors, continuing to support their efforts with reservations or ticket sales, and standing tall as a loyal fan, is the fuel that keeps the organizational engine running and everyone on track.  “Let’s do it for the fans, for the loyal customers”, is damn powerful motivation.

There are many parallels between sports and what we do in restaurants.  Owners are owners, coaches are chefs and managers, players are cooks, servers, dish washers and bartenders, and fans are loyal guests.  Each of these stakeholders is driven by a desire to be part of a winning formula.  Even when the goal isn’t quite reached, if the commitment to the strategy is alive, they will stand in agreement: “There’s always next year.”

Never stop reaching for the carrot, STAY INSPIRED.  It is this attitude and process that attracts the very best.

Support your local restaurant/team in pursuit of the carrot. Go Bills!


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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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