the yeast
Leadership Management

Effective Leadership Is Like Baking! It’s All About the Yeast

My baking skills are marginal at best. I can follow a recipe to bake a loaf of bread, but if it doesn’t rise properly, I likely won’t understand why. Skilled bakers, on the other hand, know the secret to preparing a fully risen and delicious loaf of bread. They recognize the importance of a small but powerful ingredient… yeast. And they can perform consistently by making loaves that look and taste identical, time after time.

As a leavening agent, yeast makes bread rise and adds taste and color. It is simply a fungus that loves eating sugar. (Don’t we all?) The yeast mellows and conditions the gluten in the dough so that it will evenly absorb the increasing gases and hold them in the mixture as it’s kneaded. This expands the volume of the bread, making it rise; and improves the flavor, texture, grain, color and eating quality. But for maximum effectiveness, it needs to be stored at the proper temperature and humidity. And when making the bread, the water must be warm when yeast is dissolved, and the other ingredients cannot be too cold.

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Our inner yeast

Recently, as I was enjoying a delicious dinner roll, I thought about the role that yeast played in my bread. Then it struck me that we each possess an inner “yeast” that makes us rise.

Like yeast is to bread, we each have a powerful ingredient that is at the core of what makes us good and valuable to others. This is a unique strength that, when managed properly, improves the impact we have on our work and our environment. It occurs naturally in our behavior and thought processes. It could be our ability to:

  • Analyze complex situations and recommend a course of action.
  • Write and communicate.
  • Encourage and push others to reach goals and their full potential.
  • Apply creative skills to arts or inventions.
  • Apply technology to solve problems.
  • Find operating efficiencies in a process.

It’s what we can do more easily that others can’t. It connects us to our true purpose in life.

But our unique strength is only operative if we have the right leader; a “baker” to effectively manage it. This means that just like yeast, it’s only active when it’s in an optimal environment. We must ensure we have the appropriate industry, types of clients or customers, personal styles, size of organization, complementary roles, and challenges to address. This enables others to recognize and appreciate our unique strength, creates a demand for its use, and allows the space to apply it. A good leader can help to promote and position our strengths.

Kneading our yeast

Bread also requires kneading to activate the yeast so that it will rise. This is literally beating it down, again and again. In a similar way, our unique strength only gets stronger when faced with pressure and with an effective leader who can guide us in responding to it.

Caitlin Clark, a basketball prodigy at the University of Iowa, is finishing her senior year and has broken more records than I can cite. She’s advanced her team to the Final Four in the March Madness tournament. Caitlin started playing basketball at the age of five on the boys’ teams because there were no girls’ teams that fit her skill level. Her talent has continued to rise and increased the popularity of women’s basketball as a result. But her coach, Lisa Bluder, has eight straight 20-win seasons and has coached D1 women’s basketball for 40 years. Clark attributes her successes to Bluder and describes her as a coach who “really allows me to be myself.”

I remember a particularly challenging assignment I held many years ago. The environment was kneading me continually with multiple pressures that hampered my ability to perform well. But my leader at the time helped me to discover how my unique strengths would work best in that setting. In the end, due to attentive, effective leadership, I rose to a better and more suitable position.

Bakers and leaders

Leaders who understand the yeast, the unique strengths of their team members, can coax the best performance out of them. They learn how their employee’s strengths are best activated, how they flourish, and ensure the right environment is there so they can shine. Leaders also identify experiences that will apply pressure or kneading, to further grow and develop those strengths. Effective leadership means finding the potential in every person and nurturing it, whether for long-term gain in their organization or in another. They help people rise. And when people rise to the right level, they perform at their best.

Find the yeast in your team members and help them to rise.

Check out Priscilla’s other insights about effective leadership here!

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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