Cast Iron Leadership

For Christmas last year I received two PHENOMENAL gifts…a 3.2 qt cast iron combo cooker and a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven.  My wife will tell you I was just like a kid in a candy store when I received them!!!

I’m unable to pinpoint when the fascination of cast iron started as I didn’t grow up in a household of cast iron users.  While it is true that my grandmother had a cast iron skillet that she made cornbread and fried catfish in, most of the time I was with my mother who is a stainless steel / non-stick user.  I guess the fascination has grown over the past year as I’ve started to use them more, and as I’ve started to discuss the multiple functions with my old man…

These things are GREAT — you can do all types of cooking in them:  frying, baking, sautéing, browning, boiling, broiling…you name it.  They can go in the oven, on the stovetop, on a grill, in a fire pit somewhere, IN a fire if you need them to be…you can put coals on them, around them, it’s great!  I recently made some chili in the 3.2 qt one I have where I slow boiled the beans in the bottom while simultaneously browning the meat on the top of the lid; single stop shop.  The seasoning that’s build up in them over time is generational flavoring, if such a thing exists.  Even better, in the event that you do mess something up in the pan or it starts to rust out, you can strip it all the way down to the bare metal and then build the seasoning back up…GENIUS I say.

As I was cooking in my pots one day, I started thinking about these casts iron pots and I realized that there’s one thing that they all do — they cook and they cook well.  Cast Iron pots aren’t subject to bouts of identity crisis.  They are constructed for not only a lifetime of use, but they are constructed for generations of use.  They weren’t meant to be thrown away nor to be re-purposed for another function; just handed off so that others can enjoy the primary function of its original design and intention.  For us older folks, these things are better than Timex for they surely “takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ (some of you may be too young to remember that — but I didn’t make it up).

I recently pondered if a leader can be shaped in a similar way to a cast iron pot.  No flash or dash, just consistency of purpose coupled with phenomenal output that culminates in the leader becoming a “generational leader.”  I must admit that is surely the type of leader I would follow, and if I may be so bold, I’d even like to become that person for my sphere of influence.  Just like the cast iron pot, I want to be able to be thrown into a multitude of situations and circumstances and perform my function well with top notch consistency.  I want to build my “bag of tricks” just like seasoning is built in a cast iron pan or skillet; one layer at a time.  If I happen to make a mistake, I want to strip that down back to the last good layer, re-season, and keep on moving.   I want to be known for my unique function and ACT in that function vs. being ACTED UPON.  I want to be that person that says “Hey, bring what you have and throw it in the Extemporaneous pot and we’ll make a good stew out of it.”

Over the past few years I’ve thought of the characteristics it takes to become the “cast iron” leader that I describe above.  I’ve often wondered what the secret sauce, the medicine, or the elixir is to make that happen.  While I don’t have it all baked yet, here are twelve words that have gone into my own pot:

Elegance Intellect











These are good ingredients and if thrown into the right cast iron pot they would make a phenomenal stew.  In my experience, I’ve found that there’s one word that really separates unique leaders, the trait that I am currently working to build:  Selflessness.  The selfless individual recognizes that they have so much to offer, and subsequently they simply and freely offer it.  The offer isn’t associated with an intention for gain, reward, advancement, fame, recognition or any other descriptor.  In fact, you could say that if they didn’t offer it then it would contaminate or invalidate the other ingredients housed within their “elixir of success”.  Personally, while this is the most critical component to my own “elixir” and the one I need the most, it’s also the most difficult for me to measure.  Perhaps it is because it is tied directly to my “why”, while the others are measures of my “what” and “how” (Note:  Simon Sinek’s TED talk breaks this down much more eloquently than I can, go check it out).

Have you ever taken the time to think about your “cast iron leadership” ingredients?  If not, why not now?



The featured image in this post is of the Oaks at Tuskegee University.  The Oaks was built by the students of the then Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and was the home of Booker T. Washington, the founder and first president of Tuskegee University.  Washington believed that the attainment of an education was the best thing African Americans could do to further themselves in the post civil war era.  While he received large criticism for his stance on race relations as outlined in the Atlanta Compromise he was cast iron in his determination to advance his cause.  This picture was taken in 2013 on a trip to my first alma mater with my daughter and nephew.  I hadn’t been back to Tuskegee since 1997 and I wanted to show them where some of the initial transformative seeds of my own personal cast iron leadership were planted;  Tuskegee, thou pride of the swift growing south

One thought on “Cast Iron Leadership

  1. Very interesting analogy of cast iron to leadership! The descriptors-elements of leadership qualities are spot on! Selflessness is probably the most difficult quality to achieve, given the nature of our “every man for himself” capitalistic focused environment. Great food for thought and self examination. After all, hasn’t every adult been forced to rebuild (as you say re-season) our own “stew”. I suppose each of us should determine which characteristic is the primary element in how we exhibit and implement leadership strategies. However this really requires honest self reflection. Thanks for sharing!


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