Leadership Lessons from the Cake Boss

by Lee Buford on July 27, 2010

Leadership is critical in all areas of life, whether we realize it or not. In fact we often don’t even notice it, or think much about it, when we’re surrounded by great leaders. Things just happen, run smoothly, and get done. Most of us, however, are quick to note poor and ineffective leadership, and our daily headlines are filled with prominent examples. Good or bad, leadership is all around us, and we’d be better for the effort if we took the time to note and appreciate those who model it well.

Buddy Valastro - www.tlc.discovery.com

I’m a big fan of the show Cake Boss on TLC. If you haven’t seen it, Buddy Valastro, Jr. and his team (most of whom are family) own and operate Carlo’s bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. Each week they turn out thousands of cakes, pastries, and other sweet treats…all decorated in amazing fashion. Viewers and customers alike rave about the bakery, the cakes, and the man they call the “Cake Boss.”

I, too, am in awe of the sweet creations whenever I watch the show. But I also find myself drawn to the “inner workings” of the bakery…the nuts and bolts of the operation if you will. And if you watch closely you will see not only a great bakery, but also an organization run by an extremely effective leader, a man who propels the bakery to new heights at every turn. Buddy Valastro, like other great leaders, models several qualities that I believe are essential in leading any group of people. Here are five:

Great leaders…

1. Establish and effectively communicate their vision

Buddy has tremendous pride in his family name, the bakery, and his products, and everyone in the organization understands this and works with the same commitment to deliver results every day. Buddy often mentions that he was committed to putting Carlo’s Bakery “on the map” and making his father and the city of Hoboken proud. He is extremely competent, talented, and experienced as a baker himself, and every member of the team has complete confidence in what he’s telling them. He’s earned their trust and respect. In addition he does a great a job of clearly communicating the gameplan for each cake or event, ensuring every member of the team has a solid understanding of his or her role in each project.
Great leaders display competency and align their teams to execute and win.

2. Make the customer #1

Buddy and his team go above and beyond to over-deliver on customer expectations. Beginning with the initial consultation all the way through to the packaging and delivery, everything is done to deliver a “WOW” experience for the customer. Even when customer expectations seem unreasonable Buddy and his team are committed to deliver…a disappointed customer is simply not acceptable.
Great leaders understand the importance of delivering results. Period.

3. Never compromise quality

The folks at Carlo’s Bakery are extremely consistent, and their consistency is driven by an uncompromising commitment to the quality of their cakes, pies, and pastries. Buddy, like all great leaders, is committed to upholding the name and reputation of his organization, especially when the family name is on the building.
Great leaders refuse to compromise or cheat themselves, their teams, or their customers.

4. Motivate others

Buddy is a passionate leader…all of the great ones are. His passion is contagious amongst the team, and his enthusiasm for their work motivates each member to bring their “A-game” to each project. He is intentional in the area of employee recognition, leveraging an “Employee of the Month” program as well as daily spontaneous recognition of jobs well done. He consistently pulls folks aside for individual encouragement as he sees necessary, and his loyalty to, and love for, his team drives his heart-felt concern for their well-being.
Great leaders surround themselves with talented people, appreciate their efforts, and recognize their contributions to the organization’s success.

5. Are cool under pressure

If you’ve watched even one episode of the show you know how chaotic things get for Buddy and his team at times. The sheer volume of their workload is daunting on most days, yet everyone there has full confidence in Buddy and in each other. Yes, tempers flare at times, but Buddy is quick to establish control and maintain the necessary focus to get the job done.
Great leaders keep the team on track, no matter what’s going on around them.

Take some time to think about leadership the next time you’re watching one of your favorite shows, reading one of your favorite authors, or simply going about the course of your day. Positive leadership models are all around us, and we can learn a lot if we are willing to be observant and take note.

What can you learn from the manner in which others lead? What can you apply to your own life or leadership style?


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