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Preparing Your Leadership Loaf

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Inspiration Lab member Sheri Shaw is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Health and Human Services at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. As an administrator, she works to craft leadership, trust, service learning, and developmental opportunities to engage and promote academic excellence, personal accountability, friendliness, peer mentorship, community engagement, and institutional responsibility. Below, Sheri shares her personal recipe for leadership success.

In the midst of the pandemic, we all spent more time at home. We’ve taken the time to learn a new skill or redefine skills. In the midst of learning a new skill or hobby, we’ve stretched ourselves from our comfort zones. This “stretch” provided self-care, stability, safety, and happiness during so much uncertainty and instability. Additionally, it provided us all something to look forward to, and for some, an opportunity for self-discovery.

Many of my friends became backyard chicken owners while others became woodworkers, stamp collectors, avid bike riders and runners, bilingual, or even finally learned to play the guitar they promised themselves they’d use in their teenage years that began to collect dust on the wall hooks. Well, for me, I took my COVID hobby time and jumped on the pandemic bandwagon of making bread at home.

As Type A as I am, baking bread was exactly what I needed. It required a finite list of ingredients; it was challenging and self-fulfilling; there was a product of success at the end in minimal time that I could share and brag upon; and there was just enough stress of working against a clock that provided urgency, impatience, and competitiveness — three things I was missing from the hustle and bustle of work and life demands.

Well, I started simple, making white bread, and advanced to French bread, artisan bread, and cinnamon bread. My favorite bread turned out to be banana bread. For one, it helped me get rid of the speckled bananas taking up space on the counter, but it also allowed me countless options around mixing in other fruits, chocolate chips, and nuts! I became fascinated with how the additional ingredients changed the consistency, taste, and fullness of the banana bread. I could not wait to make the breads and wrap them with decorative paper and leave them on the doorsteps of friends, co-workers, and neighbors to delight in over a cup of coffee or paired with their tea after dinner.

What I came to realize is that baking banana bread became an opportunity for me to rediscover and affirm some of the qualities around leadership, relationship-building, and adaptability. So I dug in a little and began to navigate this familiar yet unfamiliar territory.

Being a supervisor in the times of COVID, we all had to move our team meetings to Zoom and get really creative in building team dynamics. So of course I used my new hobby as a gateway. Soon, our team of 20 began to share at the start of each meeting all of our new hobbies and lessons learned. And for me, the concept of baking banana bread became the spotlight of my sharing. Because simply, when you think about making banana bread, the core characteristics that shape those who we have designated and defined as leaders easily parallel the design of making that perfect, yummy, warm loaf of bread.

So, from my time of banana-bread making, I’ve developed and would like to share with you my simple recipe for unlocking your leadership and making your yummy leadership loaf that you, too, can share with others.

Here are the ingredients needed for your leadership loaf...

  • 2½ cups of ingenuity and creativity

  • 2¼ tsp of motivation and grit

  • ¾ tsp of organization and flexibility

  • 1⅔ cups of adaptability

  • ¾ cups of cooperation

  • 3 large eggs of communication

  • 1 tbsp of influence and delegation

  • 1 cup of self-awareness and self-care

Additionally, I have found adding a couple of these ingredients below creates fullness and an additional sweetness to the batter... 2 cups of patience.

  • ¼ tsp of empathy and honesty

  • 5 cups of grace and gratitude

  • ¼ cup of respect and truth

  • 2 tsp of courage and trust

  • 1½ cups of commitment

After kneading the bread to get the right texture, giving it time for its first rise (and second rise, if that’s your process… especially if you need more time… take it), and shaping the bread for baking, you should preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (this is the temperature that allows for passion to grow slow and steady). Pour your batter into the pan greased in love and place it in your oven with care and concern for just under an hour. Allow your bread to cook right up under an hour, and to be sure it’s ready, you can stick a toothpick in the middle to check density. You want your leadership loaf to be firm, but not overdone. In other words, you want your leadership to show agility, but you do not want to be easily manipulated.

Now that the loaf is ready, allow it to cool before removing it from the pan. This is usually when I pick out the dazzle… for the bread, it is the colorful paper; for your leadership, it can be the PowerPoint or speech theme, quote, music, or even the closing statement. Your dazzle is just your unique touch! Your end product from your labor is a successful loaf to share, but it can always use a couple sprinkles of smiles. My rule of thumb is to never forget the dazzle.

Now you now know how I make my leadership loaf!

I’ve shared all my ingredients, but if I can offer one more recommendation, even with all the ingredients and following the recipe without error, you need to make sure you create balance! Adding too much of one ingredient or substituting ingredients due to a shortage in supply can change the intention, taste, and value of the leadership loaf, even when it may look the same. Practice careful planning and take your time, but also be selective in how and when you share your loaf with others. You never want to give more away than you have remaining for yourself. The goal is collaboration, not depletion.

Well, now it’s time for you to get your leadership loaf in the oven!

Enjoy each part of the process: gathering the ingredients, selecting your additions, and don’t forget to sprinkle the smiles on right before packing it up in your razzle-dazzle as you share with others!


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