Food and Leadership Part 2: Making Lemons into Lemon…Bars

“Muster the courage to stir things up, and be stirred up, in the service of learning. Inspirational tales, theories, and tools alone don’t develop leaders. They protect them from the unsettling experience of leading.”–Gianpiero Petriglieri, MD


In my first post in this Food and Leadership series, I pointed out the similarities between food and leadership.  Humanity requires both to survive, yet both can be either nurturing or poisonous, depending on who is delivering it.

Today I want to focus on lemons and lemonade….and even lemon bars.  Stay with me here.

I was talking to a client the other day who works for an organization that has struggled in recent years with innovation.  It seemed like every new idea that would come up from a well-meaning team member would get squelched by miles of thick red tape in the form of lengthy approval processes, outdated and cumbersome product development processes, and a culture of fear of failure.  Then along came COVID 19.  Suddenly, ideas that took months to get through the approval process were happening nearly instantaneously…and get this….their organization did not implode as a result.

This same organization just last year had only a small percentage of employees working from home, despite the fact that there many people who really wanted to do so.  The idea of allowing more employees to work virtually had too many perceived obstacles, and thus never caught on as a viable plan.  Fast forward to March 2020:  This organization was able to essentially convert their brick and mortar workspaces across the region to a 100% virtual work environment, not only mitigating health risks but greatly reducing operating costs.  In one week.  This organization experienced, and put to test, the “unsettling experience of leading” and used it to their advantage. The leaders turned a bunch of unforeseen, unwanted “lemons” (an international health crisis) into some pretty sweet “lemonade” that everyone was thirsty for.

At Refinery, we were faced with a reality of many of our in-person programs being postponed due to travel restrictions and self-isolation.  Yet, we knew that the leaders who were part of our programs needed help right away.  Refinery has never been known as a virtual training company.  On the contrary, our methods are highly reliant on in-person experiences that are tactile and require physicality as well as mental stimulation.  So, our design team got together and within a matter of days designed a set of modules for a distance learning (virtual) leadership program. Were we going to develop these modules at some point anyway?  Probably.  But, what better time to try something new than when the need is high and time to market is limited? Again… lemons into lemonade.

There are organizations that are folding right now—not because they are under-capitalized or their customers have lost faith, but rather, because they have failed to adapt to the new market realities and expectations of their customers.  They see the lemons, but don’t see anything close to resembling lemonade.

George Naroian, Founder and CEO of Giant Leap Management, recently developed what he calls The COVID 19 Strategic Filter.  In a nutshell, it’s a tool to help an organization assess where they are currently from an organizational health perspective, and how they need to prepare themselves to not only survive COVID, but thrive and innovate.

Essentially, you can assess your organization’s readiness and need to innovate based on two factors:  1) your cash position, or financial health, and 2) your strategic situation, or how well-positioned your organization is in the market, given the disruption within your industry, demand for your product, and your strength of recurring revenue.

Based on your position on the grid, the next question is, “How do we thrive post-COVID?”  There are some great, specific tactics that George provides in his blog, and I urge you to check them out.  But in short, here’s his advice:

  • If you’ve got a good cash runway and a strong strategic market position (Survive Then Thrive), make some immediate, prudent investments in your product and delivery system NOW. There is simply not going to be a better time to put those product development/enhancement ideas into motion.
  • If, on the other hand, your cash is tight, but you’ve got a strong market position, (Glimmer of Hope) you are actually in a better position to innovate than a company that has good cash flow but no competitive advantage in the market (Clock is Ticking).  Investors and strategic partners will be much more willing to put their money in a firm that has a decent chance of thriving in a post-COVID environment, than one that has played it safe and not innovated.
  • Finally, if your cash is tight (even with government subsidies) and your strategic market position is weak, you may be faced with the reality of immediately finding capital before you can even think about redefining or innovating your products.

So, my intent here is not to say that all effects of COVID 19 on business have great outcomes.  Far from it.  But, what if—you looked at your current situation not as an exercise in survival, but as an opportunity to innovate?  What if, instead of hoping the lemons quit being delivered to your doorstep everyday, you find a way to turn them into something that your customers actually crave?

Speaking of craving, here’s a favourite recipe for my Lemon Bars.  Make no mistake, once you start sharing these with friends, you will get frequent requests!


Susan’s Lemon Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and parchment line an 11X14” jelly roll pan.

For crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

½ c icing sugar

1 tsp salt

1 c butter, chilled and grated on cheese grater

Put dry ingredients in mixing bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Mix until combined.  Add grated butter and mix until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press mixture into bottom of parchment lined pan.  Bake for 20 minutes or until crust is lightly golden brown.

For lemon topping:

4 eggs

2 c granulated sugar

¼ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Rind of 1 lemon, finely grated

4 T lemon juice

Put all ingredients in mixing bowl and mix at medium speed for 3 minutes or until light yellow and thickened.  Remove crust from oven and immediately pour over lemon topping, ensuring that topping gets spread to outer edges of crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until topping is light golden brown and set in the middle.  Cool bars completely, then cut into squares.  Top with a dusting of icing sugar.