Being marmite…

Most of my thoughts about academia seem to come out of random phrases that float into my brain at odd phases.  “Being marmite” is one of those phrases that I’ve heard several times at leadership & management conferences.  I have to say, it didn’t mean a lot to me, because I’d never tried marmite (I know, I’m 31 years old, and I’d never tried marmite.  This is on the list of other things that I’d never done, like camping, but that I might have to catch up with during my 30s!)

During the discussions, it turned out that what they meant was marmite is a love/hate relationship.  Everyone (apart from me, clearly) knows whether or not they love or hate marmite.  Everyone remembers marmite; they recognise the brand; they recognise the taste instantly. Nobody is going to forget about marmite.

I’ve needed some time to think about this.  I don’t really want to be hated, but nor do I want to be forgettable.  Would I rather be liked and not taken seriously? Or not liked and remembered?
That’s a really difficult thing to think about, and I can’t see it working in a clinical setting: we’re a team, and that’s what makes things work. Why would deliberately creating a love/hate impression just so that you’re easily remembered work in academia? or management?
Things like this are why I never wanted to get involved in management; why I just want to sit in my little box, and let the world of work trundle past… until I get so annoyed about something that I have to get involved!
Two things happened in the past few weeks to make me change my mind.  Firstly, I had a talk on leadership and management from one of the best (OK, probably the best) consultants  I have ever had the privilege to work with.  And yes, that is a deliberate work with and not work for.  (Anyone who’s worked with Andy Currie will know that’s true).  It made me think about why he’s such a brilliant leader: it’s not that he deliberately sets out to make himself memorable by generating this love/hate scenario I keep hearing about (the marmite effect).  It’s because compared to getting the job done, and done well, personal things become irrelevant.  The team works better when we all get along; because it delivers good care.  That’s what we feel is important.  It’s not that we need to be memorable to be good leaders; it’s that leading the team to get the best possible outcome over-rides all those personal considerations.
The second thing that happened, is that last week, I had my first taste of marmite.  And, it was OK.  It was nice. It would work really well with cheese on toast; I can see me putting a bit into a tomato sauce or a chilli; it would probably give a really nice dimension to some bread (of course it would, it’s yeast!).  But it isn’t this yes/no, love/hate phenomenon I was told it would be.  Actually, it’s a really nice flavour enhancer that helps everything else sing a little bit more; work a little bit better…
Maybe being a good leader is about being marmite after all: but it’s my kind of marmite

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