I will confess to a guilty pleasure: watching televised cooking competitions with my wife. Gail is a terrific cook, the proof of which can be found in my waistline. I, on the other hand, cannot cook a lick. But I enjoy the competitive aspect of such shows and the way they reveal people’s behavior under stress.
One such show is “Hell’s Kitchen,” a Fox offering featuring celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Each season—the current one is its 14th—begins with 16-20 chefs hoping to survive to the end of that season’s run to become the head chef at a new Ramsay restaurant. As is the way of such reality series, one Ramsay chef wannabe is eliminated each week until a winner has survived. And survived is the right verb, since throughout each show, Ramsay exhibits the kind of empathic, nurturing leadership generally associated with Parris Island Drill Instructors or serial killers. All of this is delightful to watch—it is, after all, a TV show, and dramatic tension is required—but horrifying to contemplate.
In one, tidy 43-minute package (60 if you don’t fast-forward through the commercials) we can witness a five-course serving of disengaging leadership and the emotional debris it leaves in its wake. We can isolate the very moment that a competitor has emotionally checked out after Ramsay shows his deep disgust that she has taken too long to prepare a table’s appetizers. Or when another competitor clearly becomes flustered when all of his co-competitors are called together to witness his emasculating dressing down from D.I. Ramsay, which virtually ensures that his subsequent performance is likely to be even worse. And, since each show takes place over a several-day period and the competitors co-inhabit dormitory rooms, we get to see the kind of dissension and back-biting among the troops that are the by-product of such disengagement-breeding leadership behavior.
Now, I realize that this is show business and that Ramsay’s act is just that, an act. If it weren’t, a dinner special of “Ramsay Kabobs” would long since have been added to an HK dinner service menu. And I know that rule number one of dramaturgy is that conflict is required if you want to hold an audience. But your business is not theatre, and minimizing the melodrama around your workplace ought to be a goal.
So if you’ve got an hour to kill and want to view a virtual apotheosis of avoidance objectives, tune in to “Hell’s Kitchen”. And be sure to leave time for a shower after the show is over. You’ll feel like you need one.