Leaders Returning to their First Love

Guest post by Janet Britcher:

Entrepreneurship: Exploring

When professionals demonstrate excellence in their chosen
field, they are often promoted to

leadership, leaving behind their foundational
expertise and for some, their first love. Some scientists give up the joys of
the lab, some physicians the satisfaction of clinical work with patients, some
cooks give up the creativity in the kitchen, for leadership or entrepreneurship.
Can you have it all? I recently interviewed restaurant co-owner Rob Evans. He
and his wife Nancy Pugh own and run the wildly successful Duckfat Restaurant in
Portland Maine.


Due to the growth of his restaurants, Rob Evans developed leadership
skills which enabled him to move out of the kitchen. He was motivated to learn
how to be a good leader to keep serving more customers. Working with
consultants from GISC, he deepened his commitment to quality workplace by
honing his own management skills. In order to delegate more effectively, he
arranged for his managers to develop their leadership skills further as well.
Despite a natural tension between the front of the house and the kitchen (in
other industries, that tension is between operations and sales) his retention
rate is unusually high, over 80% of employees have been there over five years

Return to the First Love

Now in addition to Duckfat, Rob has been called by his love
of cooking back to the kitchen. Entrepreneurs are creators and risk takers, and
by building a strong management team, Rob was able to consider what else he
wanted for his role. Prior to opening Duckfat in 2006 with his wife Nancy Pugh,
they owned and managed a high-end restaurant, Hugo’s. So he knows a range of
restaurant offerings.

This new opportunity provides space for a production
kitchen to support the high volume in the small space of Duckfat. In addition,
he has a creative new offering: Duckfat Frites. It is located next to a Brewery,
Oxbow, where customers can buy a beer and then order Belgian style Frites to
go.  The production space is new, the
informal partnership with a brewery is new, and the take-out window for Duckfat
Frites is new. Entrepreneurs thrive on creativity and all leaders need to find
ways to tap into innovation and make time for activities which are energizing.

His motivation?  “I
wanted to be back in the kitchen, and developing my managers enabled me to do
that. Duckfat serves up to 800 customers a day, in peak season. In order to be
able to serve that many people, and coordinate our 40 employees, we need a good
management structure and systems. We have worked hard to create that. Now I’m
ready for a return to the hands-on work in the kitchen.”


new location, Duckfat Frites, has its own culture. Initially Rob thought it
would be a copy of their successful Duckfat culture, but the nature of the work
they do, the location and the space have combined to create something
different. Still good, still positive and connected, yet with its own flair.

Culture is hard to transplant, as any company which has been through a merger
can attest. What did transfer was the positive spirit and collegiality.

Keeping Vibrant

Some leaders find the move into management to be satisfying
expansion of skills, and discover a new passion for strategy, developing
others, and leveraging impact. Others long for their prior kind of work, where
they had expertise and more hands-on satisfaction. Either one can represent
career advancement and development. I’m a fan of playing to strengths, and
spending time and energy where there is creativity and passion. That plus focus
translates into success, on either path. Some fortunate leaders like Rob Evans
find a way to combine both.

Some executives ask, how do I know which would be better?
As an executive coach, I have seen that self-reflection has a big payoff. It’s
important to nourish what is enlivening, whether that’s through growth,
expansion, diversification or a return to your first professional love.  For those who invest in reflection and self-awareness, it’s even
possible to combine both.
, MBA,
is President of Transformation Management LLC in Boston. She offers executive
coaching, leadership workshops, and retreat facilitation.