Ha. This isn’t an article I ever thought I’d see myself writing. Nevertheless, in a moment of clarity, I’m going to put something down:
I do not believe in servant leadership.
It's a political term that has meaning with reference to ideological visionaries, but it is nothing more than a confusing oxymoron when brought into a professional context. My whole life I’ve been taught to play servant leader and pull alongside the rest, but having worked for really good (and rather tricky) bosses, I’m coming to the conclusion that most people struggle to take charge while positioned as a fellow follower.
Totalitarianism counts, just stay human
At the moment, I work on boats. On boats, there is a captain, and a captain’s word is final. As mine put it to me, it’s kind of like the Italian mafia. There is no argument.
In truth, no matter how ridiculous, when my captain speaks I drop what I’m doing and I hop to it. It is not only the safest way to run a vessel, it is the most seamless. People at the top see more of the full picture than people lower down. It doesn't say anything about those people; it is just the nature of the physics of vantage points.
I’ve spent the last six weeks taking orders from two captains. To make it more exciting, their notions as to the running of things lie at polar ends of the spectrum; perfect 180° antitheses of each other. There was no way to please both simultaneously, and needless to say, only one of them survived the battle for supremacy.
It led me to reflect on why I made the choices I did - and more generally, what motivates anyone to perform when instructed to do so.
Servant leadership disempowers your staff
If a leader undertakes to complete the same jobs set to the people beneath them, it undermines their responsibility. I speak as someone from below. Not only this, it gives the impression of micromanaging. If you hire someone to perform a task, trust them to do it. Hold them accountable, but don’t oversee the entire process. The nascent stages are the critical ones - and yes, your input then is crucial.
Servant leadership highlights ineptitude
Unfortunately, working alongside someone on a simple task more menial than your pay grade would deem can over-humanise you. Nobody wants to reveal a weakness in an area assumed to be beneath their skillset. If you're a little rusty on the practicalities, showing someone else how it's done can create the impression that you're rusty on everything.
How to be a great autocratic boss
The University of Norwich outlines ten types of leadership. The more 'relaxed' stances require utter faith from those who are not in a position of power. If you're not a corporate Casanova or a revolutionary empathetic enough to personally satisfy each employee, you're going to need to earn respect from a greater distance.
I believe there are two cornerstones to winning people’s faith in an authentic but authoritative way:
1. Do the things your juniors can’t
The boss is the boss for a reason, right? People expect a leader to do the things they are not qualified to. They trust too, because without a boss, they have no product for their labour and certainly no income. If that manager sits idle or expends his energy watching the minutae, he's giving his employees the time to notice him do so.
2. A good boss stands as lookout, but also looks down
There is no sense in bossing people about if you cannot trust them to perform.
Unfortunately, group projects suck. They have haunted me for years and I always end up pre-emptively carrying the full workload to prevent possible mishaps. Bad, bad leadership.
However, out in the big scary real world outside of the confines of academia, things work differently. You hire experienced individuals, or people you are willing to make a commitment to developing. Therefore, if you are unable to recognise a job well done when you see it, you are impossible to impress, and people will stop trying.
3. It’s not about a compliment
Leaders have selected people to do their jobs because they are competent. Competence is not worthy of praise, and praise can be patronising. It is about teaching: entrusting your team with further responsibility and consequent privileges. These show your staff your reciprocal reliance on them, just as they rely on you. This heightened responsibility doesn’t need to be framed as a promotion.
For me, being introduced to the grander scheme was enough. Having a mentor talk me through the theory of a yachtmaster, and demonstrate the workings of a vessel ‘beneath the boards’ (every boat is a delicate labyrinth of engines, pipes and electrics) gave me a greater appreciation for my role in making the machine move and an awareness of where I could improve.
I attended an interesting feedback report given by a senior consultant of Bain & Company, whose case centered on the factors that influence whether women in business reach the top rung. The team's conclusion was drawn from parallel sources of evidence from numerous multinationals - and it all comes down to the fact that somebody higher up made a personal investment in developing these women.
In short, good mentorship.
What makes an inspiring CEO
There is one nuance that keeps surfacing, and that is humanness. It isn’t something that can be lifted verbatim off this page, and I've got a lot of learning to do. Everyone has their own approach and boundaries.
The best ‘human' leader I have met arrives early in the morning, taking stock of the many people paid to labour through the night to execute her bidding. Long hours at odd hours are nothing unusual in her line of work. But stopping briefly to check in with the most junior guy dangling off a scaffold at 6am, and then offering around cokes before moving on to do her own boss job commands respect. People move mountains for her, because they know the mountains move (in part) for them.
Unprecedented Gluten Grouch
Yes, yes, I hear you, but I love gluten.
This article comes with a rant disclaimer.
I've interviewed an artisan superbaker who preaches the virtues of gluten-heavy bread done the slow way. She illustrates the beauty of the traditional loaf better than I ever could. However, if you still want to know why the gluten-free movement rubs me the wrong way, read on.
Last week I was tasked with serving a London socialite gluten-free, lactose-free meals three times a day, for five days, and I did. I don't believe in trying to make plant-based substitutes resemble dairy or wheat, but rather serving foods that inherently don't contain these allergens.
In short: keep potatoes potatoes and be done with it.
What I disagree with is the common misconception that following a diet reliant on gluten-free substitutes even in the absence of medical allergy is a healthier way to eat than consuming their gluten-rich counterparts. This post is now up here, out there, in cyberspace, and my shoulders are lighter for dropping the nerdishly technical load.
I am no nutritionalist. My appraisal of gluten is based on my own experience and study of human metabolism during my BSc and BSc(Hons) degrees. I speak as a fun-runner and a hungry student, so I can't account for ketogenic or paleo dieters who cut carbs altogether. All I know is that without carbohydrates, my metabolism would probably shut down by noon - and with carbs come gluten.
There's a French bakery beneath my window for goodness' sake! Gluten is glorious.
Spotting the Great Gluten-Free Grab-and-Go
We’re familiar with them by now. There are those little LCHF stickers stacked alongside rows of 'organic' (food miles) linseed oils and 'Banting-approved' (pharma for a profit) cookies containing little more than whey protein and coconut glue. Somewhere nearby is a smoothie fridge containing 'fresh' (yet bottled?), calorie-controlled juices, most likely in single-use plastic with a suspicious use-by date.
It’s as though the labelling validates the 60% markup. But why not elaborate on my pet peeve, since I’m at it?
The big selling point for many of these products is their alignment to the vaguest definition of the green revolution. One gluten-free importer labels their products “bio-friendly”.
I emailed to check with them - they don’t define this, and it doesn't seem their practices are any more eco-safe than the next supplier. The latest health trends sweep non-GMO, gluten-low, superfood-rich substances of unpronounceable origin into the same diet plan at a high environmental cost.
Words lose their meaning when we are used to reading "palm-oil free", "eco-grown", "certified organic", "GMO-free", "gluten/lactose-free" and "no added sugar" in the same square inch beside the logo.
Healthy eating can be misconstrued as a full-time occupation
It’s painful that in a world in which one in seven people cannot access enough calories to balance their energy expenditure, we see the rise of media-generated fads around what, how, when and where to feed ourselves. Food is becoming the obsession of the wealthy world. We eat too much of it, run it off of ourselves, fill our landfills with it and tell each other about how and where to find it in its most exotic form. People cross continents to try the speciality of a region or book months in advance for a Michelin visit. We become hyperaware of any bloat, distension or strain and immediately relate it back to the last thing we ingested. Forget bread-making Sundays - instead those are tied up with meal-prep and freezing broths and shakes until we have not a Tupperware or Ziploc left unused.
Getting technical about gluten
It’s a protein. Small building blocks of natural acids - 'amino' acids - form together as we metabolise to build pretty much everything on us. Keratin, muscle, skin - these are all animal proteins.
In the same way, gluten is a natural support protein found in cereals. Its two building blocks (glutenin and gliadin) spontaneously join into long chains when flour hits water. The resulting elastic is sticky and stretchy, and the wetter it gets, the stronger it becomes. It traps hot gas as the bread rises, making a ciabatta light and fluffy not sad and stodgy. Gluten makes bread. I like bread.
Gluten is inherent to many carbohydrate staples such as wheat, rye and malt. However, it is not present in purified rice flour, for example, which is what many of the exorbitant gluten-free breads are made from. Their refinement means they spike blood sugar levels beyond what we would normally lump into the 'health-food' category.
Coeliac disease: When cutting out gluten is necessary
Gluten intolerance sucks. It rules out the usual culprits: bread, crackers, pasta, couscous, oats, cereals, cakes, cookies, most thickened yoghurts, salad dressings. It also eliminates beers and ciders, vodka, malt vinegar, soy sauce, and frozen meals.
Coeliac disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system recognises gluten the same way it might a virus or pathogen, and attacks it. It’s called an autoimmune disease because the small intestine, which absorbs gluten molecules with other macronutrients, is also attacked by the body’s defences. It’s not fun. Because of the abundance of gluten within a few grams of starch, the destruction of the lining of the intestine causes bloating, diarrhoea, swelling, vomiting, which in severe cases can lead to death.
Chronic coeliac diets require a separation between gluten-containing surfaces and utensils and gluten-free ones. Ultimately, if one doesn’t have an intolerance, keeping up with the non-gluten trendies gets very costly very quickly.
Coeliac disease affects approximately only 1% of the world’s population. We are subscribing to misrepresented data - and it costs us a load. The US gluten-free market is approaching $7 billion. According to Forbes, that’s more than double Donald Trump's net worth.
In short, I'm not convinced these foods are more nutritious, or delicious, than their non-logoed counterparts. Their refinement has associated them with an uptick in Type II diabetes. They are highly purified, often imported, support multinationals and can thwart local crafters.
So why do I feel bloated when I eat bread?
The world’s growing need for more food for ever more mouths has led to a sad number of cut corners, especially in the developing world. Gameau's That Sugar Film struck many as a horror story narrating the additives and nasties pumped into our health-food staples. That post-sarmie bulge may be brought on by flour improver, or another suspiciously common ingredient: modified corn starch. This modification is what gives the corn its emulsive properties and is achieved by treatment with sodium/potassium hydroxide, electricity or heating.
After doing an introduction to artisanal breadmaking under Babette of Babette's Bread, I’ve become a big fan of stoneground flour, particularly rye for its flavour. The closer to home it’s milled, the better. One slice of the good stuff - yes, hot, and with butter - is filling enough. The protein content in good flour slows digestion and adds satisfaction. I don’t live in an ideal world where I can bake my own loaves weekly, but where I can twist my Mum's arm to join me for a day of kneading, I do.
Alone abroad can't be about 'finding oneself'. Not realistically.
There is a crafty idealism to the millennial belief (I am not exempt here) that shoving one's savings into a one-way ticket out also buys the licence to stumble across one's calling.
It begs the question: Out?
Out of where?
I've been running arounf remotely for nearly half a year now, and despite assuring myself I would have plenty of time to work, blog, earn, catch planes and take sunset snaps in a variety of exotic locations, what has been strongly reinforced that there is nothing glamorous about being in transit.
And with a grungy sort of glory, I revel in that.
With nowhere mandatory to be, and nobody to keep arrangements with, experiences in transit are fluid and shaped almost exclusively by people I have chanced upon in a moment of good humour.
With enough time, and the right eyes, everybody has the potential to be revolutionary. It's the underlying premise of projects like Humans of New York, and why National Geographic has the power to humanise politics with something so simple as a front-page headshot. Of course, this rose-tinted view of our fellow man disperses in our over-peopled reality: we do not extract the life story of every librarian and dentist we come across.
There are buses to catch and meetings to make and Facebook posts to scroll through. We simply don't have the energy for it. There are too many of us, and too many things we tick off in a day. Who needs to fall in love with humanity twelve times over in an afternoon? It's exhausting - it's just that we somehow believe we're wrong in saying that.
Looking out, not in
Traveling alone has given me the space to daydream and wander without critical self-examination. I don't believe I need to be traveling, or even alone, to do this. However, the daily labour of earning my way forward and the ever-unfamiliar surroundings provide a shift in focus, making it easier to look at everything from a distance. Excessive introspection is like examining a bowl for structural flaws with a headtorch. Any harmless irregularity in the glaze can seem more physically marred than in regular daylight.
A few months of comfortable distance and I am finding myself far more amenable to the general populace who walk, talk, and think much the same as me. Having worked in the service industry for the past four years, I have developed an almost comical distaste of crowds and The Noisy Public, and am relearning the magic of the individual human being one clumsy conversation at a time.
A weird spinoff is that I have developed infrared sensitivity to group selfies. It is a simple kindness to offer to take a photo for someone, and their gratification is usually disproportionate by comparison. Too many people walk by each other unseeing. Stepping out of a comfy clique to become the nondescript stranger has made me aware of how often another's discomfort, big or small, goes unnoticed.
People can be cool
After tough schooldays, my Dad made a (probably subconscious) point of teaching me 'good life stuff' during the drive home. I can see the scouts hall on the hill near my first school and feel the sticky leather of the passenger seat as I write this, because he almost always brought up this particular topic at the same corner.
The original quotation I suspect he was referencing is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Small minds discuss people, average minds events, and great minds, ideas."
If I recollect correctly, what my Dad said whenever I relayed my latest oddball escapade and its unfortunate consequences:
"Boring people talk about people.
Average people talk about events.
Exciting people talk about ideas."
It was a source of comfort during times of moody adolescent isolation to once again sit at Dad's knee (or behind a slammed door) and turn his pearly wisdoms between my fingers. The planet is bustling. But people en masse aren't representative of the individual alone.
Friendship on the fly
Traveling alone catalyses the formation of close companionships. These friendships are pithy and authentic because they are transient. Last week's acquaintances become this week's supportive shoulder. Conversations get gritty and real. The inevitable parting brings out the best in friends - we become even more generous and forgiving - and all that social nicety and beating about the bush falls flat. If you really want to make plans, you really will keep them. And if you really do flake, they really will forgive you.
I have met some incredible people as I have moved between cities and jobs. I've been offered beds and meals and company with which to share a stretch of road in silence. There have been mentors who invested more time than they could spare teaching me the ropes (literally) or demonstrating the intricacies of managing a commercial kitchen at high speed. There will be a leg up or a well-timed word of encouragement. People will surprise you with their humanness.
The interim periods, when one is alone (and in my case, often on duty and housebound), there is little escape from oneself. There is only one solution: to take Dad's advice and grow to be more exciting. I've always rather enjoyed being on my own, but it's a privilege to have the time to be. I'm pretty sure that Ancient Greece and her philosophers were the last to consider being lost in thought a valuable use of time, but I'll claim it while I can.
Sure, travel grows you. Traveling alone especially. But only because it's sometimes hard. If it's not sometimes lonely, it's not new. And without new, there is no excitement.
A recent turn of fortune saw me lifted from the excruciating introspection inherent to job-hunting and dropped onto the other side of the screen.
Going from one extreme (unemployed, uncertain, but uninhibited) to the other (hired, habituated, hardened) serves as a point of reflection. While reading the replies to a job advertisement I recently posted, I have been forced to question what successfully guides someone to the end of a CV.
Some of the stumbling blocks are easily avoided by a simple proofread. In an effort to improve my own CV I have jotted them down and put them here. However, I suspect I am preaching to an audience of great CV-writers, and merely joining the shout of a thousand other recruiters into the void that will never reach those who I suspect need the advice the most.
Forgive the rant to follow. It was a long night reading. Here is my updated CV gospel.
1. Know your recruiter
No, seriously. I am not suggesting it is always necessary to launch a background investigation as intensive as some of the Ted Talks email whizzes suggest, but it really helps to address the intended recipient about the correct vacancy.
If this seems obvious, I will mention that I recently received an application addressed to a John, and I am confident in the knowledge that this is neither my name, nor, despite the softening of rigid gender-binary nomenclature, my sex. The email also referred to a role I wasn't even in a position to offer.
2. Send one mail. Just one. Please.
There is no valid explanation for separately firing off each reference under its own subject. Spam stays spam no matter the title.
3. CV photos always involve a third party
I managed to burn a sizeable second-degree smatter across my face the day before I was due for a passport photograph. Trying to find an existing replacement (against a white background, not smiling, directly facing the camera and displaying both ears) was a fair runaround my phone's camera roll.
Despite this frustration, I am still unsure as to why two-thirds of the CVs I have been sent are accompanied by busty high-angle selfies that crop off the chin. The self-timer icon lurking in most camera settings is underused, but when discovered, saves the need to bother a friend. The benefit to asking a friend, however, is that the resulting headshot is less likely to have that strained expression we associate with the mafia and constipation.
4. How hiring happens
The superyachting industry is a highly saturated and competitive one, as I suspect is increasingly the case in every field when one is starting out. After a vacancy on a 'big white boat' is advertised, most applications will be received and reviewed within a day, usually beginning around mid-morning. Whilst it is still possible to crack the nod at the twenty-third hour, chances are if it's your Mum over Facebook Messenger and she hasn't followed the instructions but makes a point of building you up before you deign to make contact yourself, you haven't made a great first impression. Yes, this happened.
5. A great subject line never hurt
Name - role - key word, preferably some sort of differentiator to highlight why you're the hottest thing since the chilli sauce that sizzled my face. Send.
With more and more gmails erroneously ending up in junkmail, rather forgo the question marks and exclamation points.
What initially separates an impressive candidate from everyone else is their ability to express themselves on paper. It's no secret that I place more weight on words than the average person, but when words are all you have to capture the reviewer in the first two sentences, a foolproof template helps. As does a sense of humour. Try humanise the reader. I wouldn't lead with "Hi...", but something less robotic than "To whom it may concern..." is preferable. It's a delicate balance of using unusual phrases that won't also crop up in the next thirty CVs.
Some adjustments I like:
hard-working stamina / diligence
attention to detail meticulous
ready for the learning curve feet-first into the fray
enthusiastic to apply excited about your call for applications
working with children early education and development
team-player invested in the group
self-motivated love taking red pen to my own checklist
These are my priorities when I review an applicant or, more often, proofread my own CV. I cannot speak for the intensive recruitment process of multinationals and other white-collar corporates. I am still stumped as to what got my foot through the door for my first management consulting interview because the entire experience felt offbeat and labyrinthine. What I do know is that most people I have spoken to dread sending CVs as much as I can now state the recipient dreads reading them.
With a little spellcheck, and a reply to even the unsuccessful applicants, hopefully what often feels like a cattle market can be transformed back into what it really is - the chance for two people who need each other to evaluate whether they could work together to address a problem.
We all have certain mornings on which we don’t leap out of bed filled with an eager desperation to sniff the scent of awaiting roses. Most days, to be entirely honest, I’m a groggy cheese-chomping mess if I don’t have caffeine and carbohydrates - in that order, in rapid succession - within thirty minutes of my feet hitting the floor.
What I’m talking about is different. Grief is not pervasive. It has a definite cause. It’s a stabbing sadness that strikes from the innocent shelves of a grocery store, or leaps up from the pavement when we were entirely sure we had it quashed. It finds us out for a run before the day’s risen above 1˚C and in our pyjamas past midday the next. It doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the good moments. It just contrasts them with a faded monochrome, aptly classified by the experts as: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.”
By virtue of the blog format, I speak from a metaphorical soapbox. But really, these are things I remind myself of every day. I was writing myself a quick note when it became a post. This is for me and some of the people I've chatted to this week. Everyone I know is dealing with loss in some form or another.
The embarrassing moments
When one finds oneself blubbing away in the tins aisle, what exactly does one do?
Society has a remarkable way of giving us maximum privacy in the most public of places. Think of the last time you saw someone leaking from the face on a plane. Or was he out for an angry skate with his music too loud? At a noisy corner table? Screaming at her dashboard in the traffic?
I have a tendency to turn on the waterworks at inopportune moments. I’ve been there. I’ve been that girl on the promenade. Nobody looks at you. They afford you a kind of blissful bubble of isolation, and if you put your earphones in, they’re suddenly your backdrop. Impromptu music video - thanks folks.
At some point, you'll face it alone
Who do you call in those moments? This is something I’ve had to address since I left. When you’re in different time zones, explaining what is happening in yours to someone else requires a formulated text that serves the the sole purpose of launching your personal conundrum into their self-stabilised sanctuary. It feels contrived summarising a problem to someone else under these circumstances, no matter how invested in your wellbeing they may be. Some would argue that if we refuse to talk about loss, there is no hope of confronting it. However, grief is sometimes the bucket and there is no answer Liza could possibly give to plug it. There comes a point where there is little comfort in making someone else acknowledge the unshiftable weight of a situation. It's a Catch-22 that leaves everyone feeling a little flatter.
I’m in strong favour of leaning on friends. But when you’re separated by an ocean and then some, and you find yourself falling short on supportive shoulders at crunch time, I’m also all for pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.
Do it for yo'self
I mentioned icy morning sprints. Those help. So does sleeping in.
There really is no right way or quick way. There is a wave, and when it’s washed off you do as the old rhyme goes: pick yourself, brush yourself off, and start all over again. Try not to wallow in Youtube’s recommended slow mix too long. Try to exercise. 2018 seems to be the year of #SelfLove.
Because grief is caused by a shocking change, there is no guessing or preparing. Surely, of all people, the person who should surprise me the least is myself? Not so, apparently. Our consciousness likes hide-and-seek. I still grieve for people I lost before I reached adolescence, and the intensity is unique in that it never dulls. Sometimes the wrong song comes on the radio on the wrong day.
And I don’t mean clothes or goals. New people. New places. The most nerve-wracking thing I did was try to befriend the Parisienne dude who owns the crêperie down the road in the hope of practicing French. On my third attempt I gave up on account of his brusqueness, but I learnt a lot about crêpe suzette. Every so often there's that heady kick of authentic interaction that comes when we look out rather than down, or forget to charge our iPods. It helps to find joy in the kid singing on the bus.
It comes down to choosing to do a new route to work. A new exercise plan. A new sketch pad. A new breakfast cereal or wall colour. Not a ‘new you’. That's not the issue here.
If there are reminders of those times, don’t throw them out. You’ll grow from holding them to your chest until they’re back in perspective.
I'm still perplexed by this life thing. It takes the form of a weird buzz of collected events that only seem significant in retrospect. So we ride it out. That’s where I reckon the growth and living is. Forget this Facebook Feeling pursuit. There is no mystery euphoria we’re all excluded from.
Bit by bit. Brick by brick.
If we can't get sniffly during the commute home, is there any benefit to traffic at all?