How strong leadership can inspire bold, positive change

Sponsored: Deborah Homshaw, Managing Director of Brookwood, the independent education division of CH&CO, discusses leadership in school catering

Strong leadership is a big topic. It’s widely recognised as key to the success of any business, organisation or school. It’s up for debate in this very magazine. But, what is it? 

There are so many facets of strong leadership, and there definitely isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ template for guaranteed success. Wouldn’t life be easier if there was?!

One thing we all recognise is that notable change within an organisation is a real test of leadership. Humans are naturally averse to change. The way the process is managed determines whether your team embraces the journey with enthusiasm, or disengages, resists or bolts in the opposite direction – I know which scenario I prefer.

In times of change, strong leaders make bold decisions, based on an absolute understanding of their business, teams and marketplace, and they engage and inspire their teams openly and inclusively.

Since taking the helm of our independent schools’ business, we’ve undertaken a root and branch review of how it works. We’ve looked at the ever-changing landscape, including the increasing competition and the demands of our dynamic young generation of consumers and we’ve challenged ourselves to identify our areas of strength. In a nutshell, we have looked in the mirror!

The timely review highlighted an opportunity to challenge our structure, define our sales targets and focus energies on our core strengths and determine who we want to be. By following these steps and communicating openly, the team is engaged and with us every bold step of the way. 

Our team is not dissimilar to a school community, which perhaps explains why we work so well with our independent school partners. We’re a group of talented, creative, knowledgeable and committed experts, all working together to do the very best for the children we nurture.

We don’t serve ‘school food’; we push the boundaries and create great food and positive, rewarding dining experiences that reflect every unique school establishment and community, and are inclusive and interactive to inspire a life-long love of food.

Feeding curiosity responsibly

Pupils are food aware. They eat out regularly, they have an abundance of information at the swipe of screen, they understand the impact of food on their health, body and the environment, and they are curious about emerging food trends. 

The growing knowledge and curiosity of children is extraordinary. But, we share the huge responsibility to channel this to help children, teenagers, staff and parents make positive food choices that fuel health, happiness and wellbeing. And, we all take this responsibility very seriously.

As leaders, we must challenge and question everything. Take healthier options and specific lifestyle diets such as vegan or free-from; the question we ask is: is separating these choices from the main menu the best way to support wellbeing when evidence suggests it can lead to eating disorders and nutritional deficiencies? We think not. It’s critical that chefs and nutritionists work together to create inclusive menus that are intrinsically nutritious, excite the senses, meet nutritional needs (appropriate to age) and reflect dietary requirements, demands and choices.

The responsibility of a good school caterer extends beyond the food on the plate. Great food experiences can bring people together, lift the spirits, and inspire feelings of community and belonging. The dining room plays a significant role in a child’s social development, and never more so than for boarders.

It’s imperative that as much emphasis is placed on the mental and emotional wellbeing of children, as on the physical. And, that goes for everyone in the school community, from teachers and staff to parents.

It’s often said that leadership is a lonely place. I don’t agree. With an engaged team, shared vision and open mind, it’s a very exciting one. Strong leadership is about being open to new ideas, perspectives and challenges, and inspiring your teams to do the same. I learn every day; from the people I work with, colleagues in the industry and, perhaps most importantly, from the young people we feed. 

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