Leadership Lessons from Hamburger (Yes, Hamburger)


HamburgerPerhaps this post will prove you can stretch a metaphor a long way (almost as far as a mother of six can stretch a pound of hamburger).  The reality is that I decided to see what I could come up with because this week is National Hamburger Week.  I spent some time thinking about hamburgers and ground beef in general, and when I was done coming up with connections in my journal, I decided it was worth writing.

I hope you agree.

Hamburger comes from different parts of the animal.

Hamburger comes from the small pieces too small to be sold separately, largely a creation to sell more meat (it’s worked our pretty good for meat processors, don’t you think?)  All of those small parts make the end product what it is – both the pieces of steak and roast and the less valued cuts.  So it is with leaders too.  As leaders we are a sum of all of our parts – both the great stuff, and the other stuff too. The combination of great strengths and comparative weaknesses gives us value and a unique leadership DNA that we would do well to embrace and use.

And . . .

Hamburger can be ground chuck, and not “just hamburger” and leaders can aspire to strengthen their strengths too!  How are you using both your strengths and weaknesses to grow as a leader?

Hamburger is versatile.

Think about all of the ways hamburger is used in our diets – it is an amazingly versatile food. It isn’t just a hamburger or cheeseburger, but meat loaf, meat balls, in Italian food and so much more.  So too with leaders – leaders must be versatile in how they do their work and how they are used.   Are you working on building your skills to be more versatile, and more able to lead in differing situations?

Hamburger is created – it isn’t naturally occurring.

There isn’t a single part of the cow that becomes hamburger – as I said before; hamburger was created by smart people trying to serve the marketplace. The individual parts that make up the hamburger are all important, but it is the whole that matters. Leaders too aren’t, contrary to some people’s beliefs, born – they are made.  The pieces of our personality and background are all an important part of the whole that makes us who we are – and all of those parts help us lead, but it is the conscious effort to bring those pieces together, coupled with learning, that make us effective leaders.  What are you doing to create the leader you were born to be?

Hamburger is appreciated by many people, yet sometimes overlooked.

People (especially in the United States) consume large amounts of hamburger – by weight likely the most of any meat protein source.  Yet most people wouldn’t pick it as their favorite or most desired food.  It is in our diet, but not thought about much.   So too, the best leaders who go about their work helping teams work better, creating change and opportunities for growth and through this effort getting greater results. It is the results they want not the recognition or accolades. Are you willing to be overlooked so your team can shine?

Hamburger is rarely enjoyed alone.  

Unless you are on a strict non-carb diet, you eat hamburger (or a hamburger sandwich) with bread, spices, condiments, and perhaps cheese, bacon, or a fried egg.  Hamburger doesn’t stand alone like a steak or a piece of fish.  When you put the right things with the hamburger, you can get a delicious meal.  And leaders don’t lead in a vacuum – it is always about other people.   Yes there is such a thing as self-leadership, but for practical purposes we don’t lead alone – we lead other people. If you are a leader, you work with, through and because of other people. How are you serving your team?

Hamburger is better after being heated.

In fact, without some “trial by fire,” hamburger can even be a health risk. However well-cooked you like your ground beef, you likely don’t eat it raw.  So it is with leaders too.  Yes we can lead when called upon, but the role of leadership is complex, and when we are intentional learners we get better as we “go through the fire” of leading. Are you willing to take some heat to learn how to lead more effectively?  Are you willing to work through heated situations to become a more valuable leader?

Now you can decide how useful my metaphor is.  I am confident there is at least one idea here that can help you lead more effectively – and I know the questions I pose can be powerful ones if you answer them thoughtfully.  I’m also confident there are other metaphorical connections between leadership and hamburger – and if you think of a useful one, I hope you will share it in the comments below.

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  1. says

    You did it … Kevin,.. you made “something” out of “nothing”. With your allegory, you hit the nail on the head once again by defining leadership using hamburger…(laughing).. Your perspicacious wisdom shined through once again. Congratulations!! You have a great communication skill set. There are always “nugget’s” in every blog you write. Thank you once again.

  2. Marcia Norman says

    Kevin, totally agree with Richard. It’s sometimes in the small things that you see a path through.
    By the way, I have a suggestion for future posts: Leadership and Management – leading people and managing people- shouldn’t they go hand in hand? Perhaps you could elaborate a bit on this subject.

  3. Stephanie Kaut says

    At first I wondered where you were going with the hamburger comparison (kinda like with the beer) yet within moments of beginning the second paragraph, I got it. Thank you for your continual insight.

  4. Rhae Swisher says

    When I read this I had to chuckle. Actually I’m still laughing. I’ve never seen anyone equate hamburger to leadership.

    I started thinking about all the other things you could have put in the article and I was wondering why you didn’t? And it struck me – that’s exactly why you wrote it the way you did. You want us to fill in the blanks. To see how it works and fits for us.

    And isn’t that part of true leadership? Create the framework for creative thinking? Great post. I love it.

  5. Kevin Wyatt says

    As I was reading my mind immediately jumped to the lettuce, tomato, pickle, etc., of the people that surround and support leaders. Glad you included this because as you wrote “leaders don’t lead in a vacuum”. This really rounded out your article nicely. Well done. I plan to tweet it to my followers.

  6. Dave Thomas ;-) says

    Kevin, when I read this entertaining bit, the cynical side of me was disappointed not to see you address pink slime and/or ‘downer’ cattle. Otherwise it was quite insightful and well written. Thanks.

  7. says

    I couldn’t help but wonder about extending the metaphor… sometimes, when everyone is in a hurry, and resources are thin, hamburger needs a little help… Hamburger Helper! Often leaders are successful because of the people they surround themselves with. Whether it be personal assistants, secretaries, consultants, or confidants, hamburger can’t shine in tough scenarios without it’s helpers!

  8. Ben Scriven says

    No matter what you use it for, you have to work the hamburger meat. You have to get your hands into it to form it, and you’re going to get a little messy.

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