Leadership. First, You Start with a Roux.

We’ve all seen them lined up in impressive displays at Barnes and Noble. We’ve read some of them. We may have even been told we need to take some cues/lessons from them.

Books on Leadership. Just googling the phrase gives me 138 million results.

There are, apparently, a lot of people who want to hone their leadership skills, and to do so they’ll read everything from Tribes to Who Moved My Cheese.

Now I’ve read my share of books, articles and posts from a diverse group of authors on this subject. I’ve immersed myself in academic materials and skimmed through excerpts in business journals. I’ve definitely gleaned bits of wisdom and invariably, when reading these materials, find a nugget or two that I can place in my pocket and use to make me a better leader. I enjoy reading stories of successful leaders who have transformed themselves and transformed organizations. But I think I’ve latched on to the two ingredients necessary to develop one’s leadership capabilities. Just as when making a roux, it seems to me that being an effective and ultimately inspiring leader requires just two ingredients to start:

  • Continuous curiosity
  • Appropriate use of one’s social skills

So let’s break these down.


As children we explore, learn and test out new things by touch, by taste, by just ‘doing.’ Successful adults still retain that thirst and desire for new knowledge for ongoing learning and acquisition of new knowledge is necessary for a successful leader who needs to regularly ask “what’s happening in the world beyond my four walls?” “How does A impact Z?” “What do we need to do to spur innovation or growth or sustainability?” “How can I acquire the knowledge that I need to get myself – and my team – there?”

Social Skills

Social skills are those skills that allow us to communicate and interact with others and socialization (which begins when we are infants) is the process by which we learn the norms and expectations for how we socialize with others.  Refining one’s social skills is necessary for business success of course – any time a new employee enters a work group or organization, they must be socialized to the culture. Naturally, managers and team members need to have the ability to interact with others and resolve conflict while managers must tap into their social skills in order to delegate, manage, counsel and coach others, and model and reinforce expected behaviors. Leaders take this one step further however by harnessing the power of their social skills to drive this process for others; adjusting as needed to fit situations and people. But make no mistake about it … a leader must be able to succeed in social interactions.


Peter Northouse has a definition – “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”

So is it a tad too simplistic – putting together a complex dish like LEADERSHIP with just two ingredients? Perhaps. But just as with a recipe, we can start with a few basic ingredients as the foundation of a scrumptious dish. Layer in the rest.

And flavor to your taste.

About the Author

Robin Schooling

With 25 years of HR Management experience, Robin Schooling, SPHR, has worked in a variety of industries. In 2013, after serving as VPHR with a Louisiana based organization, she left corporate HR to open up Silver Zebras, LLC, an HR Consulting firm. She blogs at HRSchoolhouse and you can follow her on twitter at @RobinSchooling where, on football weekends, you can read all her #whodat tweets.


Robin Schooling

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Rick. And I think that just as when making a dish (and starting with a roux), the flavoring and additional ingredients can be based on the strengths of the leader, added for taste, thrown in for a specific purpose/desire (i.e. to fit the organization or situation) or for other intent. Tasty!


First of all, I have to admit my ignorance of not knowing what a roux is, let alone how to make it. Despite my ignorance, I did appreciate the brevity and wisdom of the two ingredients-curiosity and effective social skills. I especially liked how Curiosity included a desire to improve-always looking for ways to get better.
I would add Stephen Covey’s concept of ‘servant leadership” for taste. Thanks for the article.

Andrea Ballard

Robin, I loved that you used “First, make a roux” to apply to leadership! To take the analogy a little bit further, and using my own experience of having thrown out many, many pots of roux that I have burned, I have also learned that it’s not just the ingredients that matter, it’s patience and commitment.

You can’t stop stirring! Not for a second to go check the laundry, not to take a quick phone call, and definitely not to check email. You have to just focus on the roux. And stir, and stir, and stir. And, after about an hour, something magical happens…

I think there’s a lesson that applies to leadership there, too.


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