The Bread Maker Story: Learning to Relinquish Control

Whether you cook or not, I’m sure you can relate to this story, shared with me recently by a good friend. It made me belly laugh, because I could totally relate this story to experiences in my own leadership.

My friend had bought her mother-in-law a bread maker. Her mother-in-law is a wonderfully accomplished cook, gardener and seamstress, and she immediately fell in love with the convenience and possibilities of this machine. Never having owned one, she wasn’t familiar with how they work, but she loves a challenge. She’s a master at Googling things and found a bread maker recipe for a delicious-sounding banana bread.

If you’ve ever made bread with a bread maker, you know that the machines are calibrated a certain way, and the recipes are designed accordingly to accommodate the automation and precision of the machine. It’s also a time-saver for those who love to make bread and have no time to manage the process. The bread machine is designed to do the work, and give you time back.

As my friend tells the story, her mother-in-law admits to having issues with needing to control everything, and this experience was no different. She called my friend at least five times while preparing this recipe. Each call was a complaint about something that wasn’t quite right. The machine was taking too long to mix the ingredients. It kept kneading and stopping. It was kneading too much and would break down the gluten, and the bread wouldn’t rise. The amount of flour and yeast seemed wrong, and the container seemed too full to cook properly. She opened up the lid and turned the machine off several times to make sure that it was doing what it’s supposed to do, and, as you would imagine, she wasn’t saving any time because she was overseeing and managing every step of the process.

Now my friend has the patience of a saint, and she explained to her mother-in-law that allowing the bread maker to do its job is the purpose of the machine.  Throw the ingredients in precisely as the recipe instructs, then walk away.  Don’t deviate from the plan. Don’t try to control the outcome. Just launch it and let it go.

A couple of hours later, her mother-in-law called yet again and told my friend that she was right. The extra banana that she had used and the constant micro-managing of the dough had created something that was a cross between soup and bread pudding… so she had to take the dough out and bake it in the oven to get it to a consistency that was edible. Her assessment went something like, “You know that I like to control things, and I guess that I just can’t do that with this machine. You were right. The bread machine is better off controlling its own destiny than having me tinker with it.” 

Can you relate to being that tinkerer who likes to control something that’s already capable of managing itself? Learning to trust your team members is key to their development as valuable employees, critical to maximizing efficiency and essential for allowing you to focus on your job and further your employer’s goals. And you’ll be more successful making bread in a bread maker.