Photo credit: iStockphoto.com (Blueastro)
Chef José Andrés immigrated to the United States from Spain at 21 with the equivalent of $50 cash. Today, he is a two-time Michelin-star-winning chef, runs 31 dining establishments, is a New York Times best-selling author, professor, father of three, and is a leading philanthropist and humanitarian through his work as founder of the World Central Kitchen (WCK), which has served more than 300 million meals in response to crises from Ukraine to Florida.
How does one leader accomplish so much? When you hear him speak, you can tell he is a force of nature. But, especially in his role as leader of a humanitarian organization that must respond quickly to crises caused by events ranging from war to school shootings to climate change, he also has three strategies for making things happen quickly.
Recognize that “software wins the day over hardware.”
The World Central Kitchen has only about 80 full-time employees. But they can respond quickly in crises, Andrés says, because “I tell people we have the biggest organization in the history of mankind.” It’s bigger than Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others combined — because every restaurant, caterer, stadium, farmer, and man and woman who knows how to make sandwiches is part of their organization. “They just don’t know it yet,” he adds. But in times of need, WCK will call on them because of that idea. That’s software winning the day over hardware.
Create a flat organization.
“Organizations that are too much like a pyramid — when someone sits at the top, and everyone else is underneath — tend not to work well,” he says. Good ideas that come from the bottom have a hard time rising because of gravity, he explains, and bad ideas similarly flow down quickly because of gravity. “People with boots on the ground know best,” he adds. “These people are in charge not because of a title but because they are there and people need their leadership.”
“Everyone plans too much. If you keep writing plan after plan, people freeze when things go into mayhem, into chaos, and suddenly you find that something has happened that you don’t have a plan for. They stop. They don’t know what to do because they never thought about that before. It’s better not to plan so much and adapt more. Adapt, and the plan writes itself as you start doing it.”