7 Things A Master Sushi Chef Can Teach Us About Leadership

Recently I watched a documentary film called Jiro Dreams of Sushi – it was about 85 year-old Jiri Ono, who is considered to be one of the top sushi chefs in the world, attracting a 3 star rating from Michelen in his little 10-seat restaurant tucked inside a subway station in Tokyo.

It was thrilling to watch this man at work, preparing delectable morsels (that look like mini works of art) with 70 years of acquired skill and experience – and a lot of pride.

But as I watched more closely as the film traced the origins of his success and his methods to keep the restaurant at at 3-star level,  there were many valuable leadership lessons revealed that are well worth sharing here (but I would recommend that you rent the film too).   Here are the 7 that resonated the most;

  • A genuine love of work  - Jiro made it very clear. He absolutely loves to make sushi, even after 70 years – and you could see it on the screen.   It’s yet another example of those who love their work have a clear advantage over those who don’t.
  • A relentless quest for continuous improvement -  Jiro is driven to make the perfect piece of sushi, and is constantly thinking about ways he can improve the product.   There was one improvement in particular that stood out in the film – Jiro discovered that if an octopus was massaged for 45 minutes, the meat would be more tender, so that’s what his apprentices do, every day, to make that product the best it can be.
  • An attention to detail - Jiro and his team leave nothing to chance as their patrons arrive, making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be,  from the sushi trays to the chopsticks and the napkins.  They also watch their customers eat, and if they are left-handed they alter the placement of the sushi on the plate.
  • A reliance and trust in the team  – Jiro was quoted in the film that nearly all of the sushi-making process was complete by the time he merged the fish with the rice, acknowledging that he had complete trust in his team to hit the quality targets that he had set.
  • A focus on keeping things simple -  He may have had ample opportunity to expand his menu beyond sushi, but Jiro had steadfastly kept to a single product.  There are no California rolls, or other specialty rolls – it’s just sushi.  It’s the one he knows he does well, and what his customers are coming to enjoy.
  • A dedication to training – The apprentice program at Jiro’s restaurant is long and arduous – it takes 10 years before a person is qualified to stand in front of customers and put the sushi on a plate.    Like most advanced skills, there are many hours of practice and repitition needed to get to mastery, and Jiro clearly understands that concept.
  • A need to show the way (and with the customers too) - Jiro doesn’t sit back and watch his operation flourish – even at 85, he still takes reservations, greets customers, and puts sushi on the plate.  And at the end of the meal, he’s there outside the door to offer “Thank Yous” (and receive thank yous from customers that have just consumed some of the best sushi in the world).

To watch such a master at work, with such passion and dedication to his craft, and to the satisfaction of his guests, was truly remarkable.  My only wish now is to get a chance to sit at that bar and consume some of that love on a plate (another add to the bucket list!).

 

 

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