There are a lot of leadership analogies out there, but how many of them start with “banana bread”? As a millennial business owner, if I'm being completely honest, it made sense to add the one word that I know how to spell best into a leadership concept. Leadership is B A N A N A S sometimes, Gwen… It truly is.
Anyway, back to banana bread.
I was hiring an intern once, and during the interview I improvised a question that became a guiding post for us during the time of her reporting to me. Here’s how it went:
You get the choice of three types of leaders:
LEADER #1 says “make me some banana bread, please. Here’s the recipe with exact measurements, if you adhere to these to a T you will have a very tasty banana bread on the other side.”
LEADER #2 says “make me some banana bread. I don’t really care how you make it, but I really want it to be super cinnamony. So really punch the cinnamon, and I don’t want it super sweet. Serve it with some butter, please” (my mouth is watering, is yours?)
LEADER #3 says “make me a dessert. Maybe it's banana bread, or maybe you get in it and decide that cheesecake is best. I don’t care, just make it tasty.”
In the interview she answered "Leader number two; I really like parameters but I like some freedom as well.
This gives me a great feel for what she needs, how she might thrive, and gives me some space to encourage decision making, and creativity… this is right up my alley.
Even at this point in my career I’d begun to realize it was less about how I wanted to lead and more about what my team needed. While this was an off-the-cuff question, it gave both of us a place to start.
After I hired her, that’s where I started: leader #2. I gave her a healthy mix of broad direction, while sprinkling in a few ingredients. In our weekly one-on-one meetings, we had a consistent check in on vibes, feelings, and needs. It was the end of one month together, and I still remember the hesitant look on her face when we got to this moment in a one on one; she had a look that let me know she had something on her mind. It took minor pressing for her to take a breath and say “I think I need more ingredients”. In an instant, I knew the exact language she was speaking. I leaned in, asked if there were specific examples and she shared them with me. This one little, Gwen-Stafani-loaded question did two things:
ONE: It gave her verbiage to lean on in the instant that she knew she was needing something and wasn’t sure how to ask for it. TWO: It brought us even closer together, because it gave me specific and actionable steps to meet her where she was.
BONUS: I hardly ever had to ask for feedback again. She was eager, open and comfortable delivering it at every corner. And that tasted almost better than banana bread (I said almost. Calm down).
When you’re thinking about your team culture, it starts with you as a leader. It’s not too late to gauge how your team likes to make banana bread. Ready to give it a shot?
In your next one-on-one ask the question. Feel free to copy and paste the examples above and read them allowed.
Wait for them to answer. Emphasis on WAIT. If you’ve never asked questions like these before, it might take them a second to answer. Silence is ok. In fact, wait SEVEN seconds before you even say another word (trust me. Some people need time to formulate a response).
Then, tell them for your next 1:1 you’d like to talk about it more, and would love it if they would think about the following questions:
In your next 1:1 reassure them that you’re excited to hear their perspective on the questions you mentioned last time.
As they talk, listen with the intent to UNDERSTAND not respond. This is great feedback that will help you to support and lead this individual better. It is worth its weight in gold.
Implement the feedback (when applicable).
Bake and repeat forever.
PHEW. Hard hitting questions, huh? But imagine the feedback and growth you’ll get on the other side of this. I can tell you that there are few conversations that would make me feel more seen, valued, and cared for than a conversation like this one.
The best part? Everyone gets to start making banana bread the way they love to, the office smells amazing, and your culture will thank you for it.
If you make some amazing banana bread in your next 1:1 we want to hear how it went!
P.S. I wonder if it's too late to change my payment method from paypal to banana bread…