Could Mashing Help My Mentoring?

The Union Club’s GM/COO, Lawrence McFadden, CMC, has found that the synergies between his favorite hobby and his career are making him a better leader.

Can a hobby help make you a better leader?  I’ve been an avid cyclist since 2003 when I purchased a “real” bike following the Lance Armstrong excitement at that year’s Tour de France. Cycling is a very complex sport, I quickly learned, well beyond people riding behind one another trying to finish the race ahead of the next wheel. Over the years I have noticed many similarities in the skills necessary to successfully race and manage a team of talented chefs in a professional kitchen.

In cycling, pedaling with a slower cadence on a higher gear is called “mashing.” Considered an imperfect pedal stroke, those who don’t master the technique are called mashers. This defines my cycling style.

In the kitchen, we often talk about those who have the “feel” or “hands.” While many chefs can execute a dish, few have a true understanding of the technique. Cycling is no different.  During my first group ride, I noticed two cyclists with perfect posture connecting smooth cadences. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, I charged into place behind one of the riders to take advantage of his seamless rhythm. After a mile, the pace quickened, and I began to lag. I never saw that rider or the peloton (pack of riders) again. I knew then that cycling wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked on TV.

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The next week I made it three miles into the ride before falling to the back. At forty-two miles for each ride, it would be a year before I finished with the pack. Like an apprentice’s first knife kit, all my pocket money in those days went to my fancy bike, while what I really needed was conditioning and practice.

Upon celebrating my first accomplished ride, I couldn’t help but notice it was reminiscent of the thrill one gets after a perfect night of service in a busy kitchen. Cycling isn’t just about energy output; it is a mind game of measurements and accuracy – no different than cooking with perfect temperature, placement or touch. Even learning to anticipate the “break” of the faster riders reminded me of the “push” during dinner service. Many culinary mentors instilled in me a team-centric approach of understanding everyone’s role in the kitchen. Now, preparation had become my key strategy against those riders who were faster or more experienced than me.

There is an undeniable rush of energy drafting along inside the powerful peloton, much like the thrill of a perfect night of service. A simple bike ride showed me how to better work as a team, infusing the benefits and talents of others while always trying to prepare for the unexpected. I have been able to utilize these skills to be a better leader and mentor at work; appreciating our culinary team and placing a well-deserved hand on a shoulder to indicate a quick note of approval for a job well done.

So maybe a guy like me who mashes the pedal these days instead of potatoes not only has a place in the weekly peloton but as a mentor in the kitchen. We all have a part to play when committed and motivated to line up at the start.