8 June 2004
Gordon is a moron
IT'S AS SCRUMPTIOUS as sticky toffee pudding, watching all those b-list celebrities squirm in front of the camera as they get a roasting from uber-chef, Gordon Ramsay in the hit series Hell's Kitchen. But his management style is about as effective as a chocolate grill pan according to Aston Business School's Dr Patrick Tissington.
Tissington questions Ramsay's approach not just on moral grounds - though he admits he would not relish working for the hot-headed chef - but on the grounds of effectiveness.
'His confrontational style leads to what we in the effectiveness trade would call "process losses" where time and emotional effort is expended on confrontation rather than in getting the job done,' Tissington explains.
'This style appears prevalent in the restaurant trade as a whole (certainly in my experience as a waiter in a high class hotel restaurant) and is usually justified in terms of getting the job done in difficult conditions. But, if this were so,' the work and organisational psychologist adds, 'other people operating in difficult conditions would also work in this way.'
Tissington, who has worked with the emergency services for the best part of a decade, has witnessed many incidents that put cases of deflated souffles into their true context. 'In working with these services,' he explains, 'it was incredibly rare for voices to be raised. In fact the more difficult the situation, the more calm and deliberate the officers became.
'The same is true in my experience of the armed forces; particularly the Royal Marines who tend to adapt a quiet, softly spoken approach on most occasions. This means that it isn't actually necessary to behave aggressively in situations of high pressure; and surely these examples show conditions of higher stress than those that are experienced by the Hells Kitchen group.'
Tissington goes on to add that Ramsay would be written off as a "flapper" by fire officers who regularly deal with life-threatening situations. 'It would be interesting to see a fire commander in charge of the kitchen. The lack of specialist culinary knowledge would, in my view, be off-set against high level people skills (better co-ordination and communication).
'There would be far fewer shouts of "yes chef" from people who have not understood the order: they are giving a positive, but incorrect response, simply because they are too frightened to say otherwise.'
Tissington points to the forerunner to Hell's Kitchen, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares to back up his argument. In this series the eponymous antihero visits a small restaurant in Yorkshire where he whips the two young chefs into shape. His presence is felt while he remains in situ and everything runs relatively smoothly. But as soon as Ramsay departs the two terrified chefs breathe a heavy sigh of relief and revert back to their previous ways.
In the current series, Hell's Kitchen, Edwina Curry has become isolated from the group and is openly derided by the other members. This means, however, that the remainder of the group is working at one below strength. 'A good leader would have spent some time avoiding this with the longer term process gain of an extra pair of hands,' says Tissington.
'The culture in the kitchen trade is that the confrontational style is the norm so it is regarded as acceptable to behave in this way. 'This is very unusual - very few areas of work would tolerate bullying on this scale.'
Anyone looking to defend Ramsay's actions might bear in mind that, though perhaps contrary to popular belief, a bullying style of leadership stems from overly high- rather than low levels of self esteem.
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