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3 Leadership Skills I Learned From Gordon Ramsay


Reality TV is probably not your first call when trying to improve your leadership skills, but you may find surprisingly good insights there.
Most people have never heard of Kitchen Nightmares or Hotel Hell, both of which are reality shows run by acclaimed British chef and entrepreneur Gordon Ramsay. He is invited by supposedly excellent restaurants and hotels that somehow fail to generate income or have any noticeable number of customers.
His challenge: identify how to fix the business.
Predictably, great drama ensues.
What is remarkable is how Ramsay does the turnaround, which is a process that many small and medium sized enterprises could learn from and apply. 

1. Identify the Problem from Multiple Angles

One of Ramsay’s great assets is his sharp eye for detail and decades of experience in both the restaurant and hotel sectors. When he arrives to a business, he thoroughly looks for signs of problem.
What Gordon Ramsay looks for:

  • Is the decor outdated? Or: Is your website appealing? Does your reception look professional?
  • Too many dishes on the menu? Or: Are you offering too many services?
  • What do staff members see as problem? Or: How do your employees perceive your business? Are they getting heard?
  • What do former staff say was the problem? Or: Do you listen to critical information? Are you open for improvement?
  • How does the food taste? Or: Is your actual product / service great from a customer’s perspective? Is it high quality?
  • What does the owner see as problem? Or: Are you honest with yourself? What is your role in success or failure?
  • And finally, what do other guests say? Or: Is customer feedback encouraged? Is it honest? Is it being heard?


2. Find an Effective Way to Trigger Change

Very often, the key problem with the business is not the lack of skills. Cooks can cook pretty well … they just don’t do it. Staff knows how to run a hotel or restaurant, they are just not given the tools, means or support to do so. Sometimes, they are in the wrong place: if you are not an asset in customer-focused areas, better be an asset in back-office tasks.
The key problems are, however, the lack of willingness to accept that:

  1. there is a serious problem with the business,
  2. the problem is (usually) not because of external circumstances,
  3. the 4Ps of pricing, product, promotion and placement are off,
  4. people are not the problem but their level of empowerment is, and
  5. change must happen, and it must be fully endorsed by everyone.

There are million books on change management, but my personal favourite is “Switch“. Gordon masterfully uses techniques outlined there by confronting owners both with their own staff and quite often with a group of guests, to give honest and painful feedback. The call to change comes not only from him but from peers and clients too.
Though data beats opinion, simply presenting evidence is insufficient to switch minds and generate a personal commitment to change. He must rally the crowdand wake up delusional owners through multiple channels.

3. Use Processes and Standards for Lasting Improvement

Accepting there is a problem and that the management must improve is only half the challenge. Owners must also learn how to make lasting improvements to their business.
Here is where Gordon’s true leadership skills come to the fore: he states a top-notch quality standard, and he shows how to improve the process without ever doing a task instead of the staff.


Gordon empowers staff to do what they do best by inspiring them and holding them accountable to their own professional standards. Sometimes it requires creating new sample dishes, whether a tasty burger or a marinated salmon, or his team redecorates the hotel lobby.
However, this is just a working prototype or a realistic sample that employees can use as a reference. Once they understand how good they can be if just given enough autonomy and trust, they don’t need external pressure to enforce it.


When everyone understands what superior quality means, a smooth process to deliver it becomes just as important. Processes are never final and an ongoing adjustment is vital for success. But to get started, you need one in the first place, otherwise the customer experience will be inconsistent and therefore suffer.
Here again, Gordon does not start running the business. He lets managers create systems that work best, so they can ensure perfect delivery each and every time.
Is your business as successful as you’d like it to be? Time to watch some reality TV, maybe.
Image credit: BBC America

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