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Surprising career lessons we can all learn from The Bear

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1 September 2023

This story contains spoilers for season two of The Bear (Disney+).

My toxic trait is streaming anything that features a dysfunctional workplace. Throw in a narcissistic boss, and there goes my entire weekend.

The Bear totally fits the bill. Even better, the series’ second season offers career lessons for us all.

Chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) opens the season determined to turn his struggling restaurant into a venue worthy of a Michelin star. Joining him on his culinary quest are family members and long-time employees with varying levels of enthusiasm for his plan.

Carmy is far from a perfect leader, but this is what makes him authentic. His missteps, his humility, his willingness to listen – even if it takes a few nudges – and the trust he places in those he leads all help him build an effective team.

Here are a few tips for anyone who enjoys leadership lessons, sautéed within a fast-paced workplace drama series.

Find your purpose

To feel engaged at work, we need to know the effort we make is valued.

“Do you ever think about purpose?” Richie Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) asks Carmy.

Richie is struggling. He wants to be part of the team and to contribute, but as his workplace has changed, he no longer knows where he fits. Carmy puts Richie well outside his comfort zone by asking him to intern at a fine dining restaurant. What follows is a stunning insight into the transformation we can all have by being open to new ideas. As a result, Richie thrives.

Remember ambition has no age limit

Just because someone has been in the same role a long time, or has never shown any interest in a promotion, doesn’t mean they won’t thrive if given the opportunity. Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas) has been working as a line cook for most of her working career. When Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) asks Tina whether she might consider stepping up as the restaurant’s sous chef, we see Tina embrace her role. She is thrilled to be learning new culinary skills, even after years of working in the business.

Meet people where they are

Not everyone wants to take on extra responsibilities. Leaders need to ensure they meet people where they are, if they wish to keep their skills and expertise in the team. Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) is a Somali refugee who struggles with English. He has worked as a chef in the restaurant for a long time and is terrified of change. After rejecting the opportunity to attend culinary school, he is invited to manage the restaurant’s sandwich window, ensuring he stays with the business.

Wellbeing matters

The quality of our life seeps into our performance at work. It’s important for everyone – especially those leading others – to take care of their own wellbeing. Carmy, the team’s leader, is clearly struggling with life outside of work. Because of this, Carmy’s leadership suffers and he starts to miss little things (like fixing fridge door handles) which eventually have big consequences.

Be a life-long learner

Embracing curiosity and being prepared to learn new skills and new ways of thinking never ends. While Carmy may be the official leader of the team, it is chef de cuisine Sydney whose calm and consistent leadership keeps the team together in the crucial moments. Throughout season two, Sydney carries with her a copy of Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life. The book, written by former Duke basketball coach Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski inspires Sydney to develop as a leader, realising it’s not just cooking skills which will see her succeed.

Kirstin Ferguson is the author of Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership. Her weekly column Got a Minute? is published every Wednesday.

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