Coffee and Leadership

I became obsessed with coffee after I tried a cup of Kona coffee in Hawaii. I now roast my own coffee, much to my wife’s chagrin (our house either smells delicious or like it’s about to burn down, depending on who you talk to).

The progression of coffee through the roasting process is similar to a person’s progression as a leader.

We all start off green – unexperienced and unpolluted by outside influence. Then the heat is turned up and the bean begins to caramelize. This stage is critical in the roasting process. You can ruin coffee by heating it too quickly or not quickly enough. It’s a delicate balance.

The caramelization phase is our early years as leaders, when we are most influenced. This when bad habits develop.

Minutes after caramelization, coffee enters the first drinkable stage – light/nordic roast. At this point, as the coffee continues to darken, it’s all about personal preference. Some people like acidic and fruity light to medium roasts. Others like the dark “roasty” taste of a dark roast.

Just like roast level, leadership style is all about preference. Some companies and teams prefer the lighter touch of a servant leader. Others prefer the directness and control of an autocratic leader.

There is one caveat. If you leave coffee in the roaster too long, it will eventually turn bitter, char and eventually catch fire. If you overplay your leadership style or are unable to flex into a different style when the time calls, you will create bitterness in your organization and “burn” out your welcome.

So what’s the lesson? Make sure your leaders aren’t developing bad habits in the caramelization phase. And teach them how to flex leadership styles to rise to any occasion.

Here are 3 ways to make better coffee:
1. Buy whole beans and grind your coffee each morning. Coffee, like any food, spoils. Most coffee peaks a week or two after it’s roasted. If you buy coffee at the grocery store, look for the most recently roasted coffee. Never buy coffee more than a month old.

2. Buy a burr grinder for an even grind that doesn’t burn your beans. I’m partial to the Baratza Encore. Make sure to clean the grinder weekly.

3. Weigh your coffee and water to get the Golden ratio. Depending on whether you prefer stronger or weaker coffee, you need to add 15 to 17 grams of water for every gram of coffee. Coffee has different densities depending on it’s origin, type of bean and other factors. If you simply use the scoop method to measure coffee, you will get an inconsistent cup.

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