Preparing Your Leadership Loaf

by Sheri Shaw | Sep 10, 2021
woman kneading bread

In the midst of the pandemic, we all spent more time at home. We have taken the time to learn a new skill or redefine skills. In the midst of learning a new skill or hobby, we have 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 of 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 that has been collecting dust on the wall hooks since their teenage years. For me, I took my COVID hobby time and jumped on the pandemic band wagon 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; and there was a product of success at the end in minimal time that I could share and brag upon. 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.

I started simple, making white bread and advanced to French bread, artisan bread, and cinnamon bread; however, my favorite bread turned out to be banana bread. It helped me get rid of the speckled bananas taking up space on the counter, but 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, coworkers, 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 COVID, we all had to move our team meetings to Zoom and get creative in building team dynamics. So, of course I used my new hobby as a gateway. Soon, the team of 20 began to share at the start of the 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 are easily parallel in design of making that perfect, yummy, warm loaf of bread. So, from my time of banana bread making, I have 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
1 ½ 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 …take the time if you need 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 in to the pan greased in love and place it into 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 is 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. Never forget the dazzle.

Now you know how I make my leadership loaf!

I have shared all my ingredients, but I will 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 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 of 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.

Now it is 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!

Sheri Shaw headshotSheri Shaw, M.Ed., is Assistant Dean for Student Success at University of North Carolina Wilmington. Join Sheri at the WSCPA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Conference on September 24. She will lead a panel discussion on the challenges facing the accounting profession. Learn more here. 


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