Podcasts- Project Good Boss

EP11: Bradley Jordan on Kitchen Nightmares and Leading with Empathy


Working in high-stress kitchen environments, Bradley Jordan had worked for every archetype of an angry chef; those demanding better performance and faster food, yelling and swearing and putting employees in their place.  After finding himself becoming this very person, the kind he’d long detested working with, Bradley Jordan decided overnight that a kinder structure could be (and needed to be) put in place.  One to listen to if you’ve ever wondered if your own influence could make that shift in your own workplace, and whether you could turn everything around as soon as tomorrow!



Intro  0:00

You’re listening to Project Good Boss, the podcast with your host Anna Sheppard.

Anna Sheppard  0:22

Project Good Boss is a podcast dedicated to understanding the business benefits of kindness in leadership. We cover topics including and not limited to leadership, equality, psychology, social impact, decent work and economic growth, all delivered with a little splash of good vibes.

Today, I have been joined on Project Good Boss, by an industry leader – 15 years in industry doing what he does best. He’s a Head Chef. He is an absolute advocate for kindness in business. His name is Bradley Jordan, welcome to Project Good Boss.

Bradley Jordan  1:02

Hey Anna, thanks for having me on.

Anna Sheppard  1:04

So tell us, Bradley, where do you work? What do you do? How long have you been doing this?

Bradley Jordan  1:11

So I’m a chef of 15 years, started my humble beginnings back in a golf club in the UK and progressed through many different types of restaurants and hotels. And now I’m currently working in the corporate sector. So basically, I work for a company that subcontracts their catering services to other corporate entities that require those services. So that’s basically the kind of area that I’m in now. So it’s a lot better hours, it’s a lot more friendlier environment. It’s a lot more chilled, and less cutthroat and obviously, the social side of it is a lot better, because you’re still able to see your family, see your friends. And that’s basically why I moved into it. I spent my entire 20s saying, “No, sorry, I can’t go out tonight mate. No, sorry, can’t do that,” or “I’m absolutely knackered, so I just want to stay in bed all day,” for my entire 20s. And it just was enough was enough, really. Since I have seen this change –  I’ve seen quite a change in myself, that’s come along with it. Also, a way that some easier fixes can be applied in my industry to make it a better environment to work in.

Anna Sheppard  2:44 

So you mentioned there you’ve been a Head Chef for quite a number of years as well. And it’s – I mean, I’ve been in the hospitality industry. It’s a rough environment in some places, isn’t it? The kitchen can be quite an intense environment to be in, it can be quite highly stressful. You do events for thousands and thousands of people in one sitting. I think having got to know Bradley, there’s some significant shifts that have happened in your leadership style and your view over the past few years. Is that right?

Bradley Jordan  3:23 

Yes, correct. Definitely realised that the way that a lot of hospitality is led is a lot more like the way the Gordon Ramsay would do it. Lots of shouting, lots of putting people down, lots of screaming, and not really much in the way of positive support. It’s kind of an environment that’s basically you sink or swim. And no one’s going to throw you a lifeline, you have to make it or, “That’s it, you’re out,” kind of thing. And I’ve seen it break a lot of people over the years. I’ve seen it break, guys that have come into the kitchen wide-eyed and happy first day and then never come back again. I’ve seen it break Head Chefs to the point where one thing that’s very touching to me is the problem that we actually have with suicide as well in the industry environment. It’s become a real point that people have started talking about which is great. A couple of people that I’ve worked with along the same company have actually taken their own lives further down the line after we’ve not worked together anymore. And it’s purely because of the stress and the environment. These people don’t feel like there’s anywhere to turn to and when you’re in that environment is very solitary. You don’t feel like anyone really cares about you, you don’t feel anyone cares about what your feelings are. It’s just head-down work.

Anna Sheppard  5:09

So what makes you a different type of leader in the kitchen, Brad?

Bradley Jordan  5:13

Because I’ve actually started to realise that burning through people and always complaining that there’s an employee shortage…which there is in Australia, there is a massive chef shortage in Australia, which actually gave me the opportunity to come over here and work. What I’ve actually seen is that if we nurture these people that are in their first few years in the industry, not only are we going to have less job shortage, but we’re basically going to have people that enjoy their work more, and they’re going to be happier people. And I, in turn, think that people that enjoy their jobs, give a better product. And there goes the whole industry, from the customer’s point of view, and as well as from the employer, or the employee. It is simply a better model to work with. So the main differences I’ve really noticed is that the shouting, the bullying, the putting people down, it needs to stop, and it needs to stop straightaway. And unfortunately, it’s not going to stop straightaway. Because I’ve worked for many chefs that put you down, that throw things at you, that burn you, that punch you. These are things I’ve firsthand experienced myself, and it’s prolific in London, especially, I’m not 100% [sure] what it was like 10 – 15 years ago in Sydney, but that’s all I can talk for in London. It was very, very brutal.

Anna Sheppard  6:55

So what’s been the trigger? Because that – first of all, that was brilliant that you shared that and you’ve been really honest about that. Because I think a lot of of people that get into these situations almost ended up in this slightly abusive cycle with their employer, where they’re a little bit afraid to step out. And maybe this abusive situation is followed with a little bit of kindness and love after and it ends up in this bit of a cycle. So what was it that made you think, “Do you know what?” – That you’re going to change things up a bit, and you’re not going to be in this environment? You don’t want to create this environment for your staff anymore. And what does that even look like on a day to day basis?

Bradley Jordan  7:34

I think the biggest thing that really opened my eyes was – I suddenly realised that become what I hated. I hated that guy that shouted at me, I hated that guy that put me down and embarrassed me, and called me out in front of the rest of the entire kitchen crew. He made me feel so small. And I suddenly realised that I was repeating that behaviour as you said, I was – I took a look at myself in the mirror one morning and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. It was affecting my working environment. It started to affect relationships I was having outside of work because I was taking that stress home with me because I wasn’t dealing with it properly. And in that moment, was the moment that I really knew I needed to make a change. I remember putting someone down really badly. I embarrassed them in front of the rest of the crew. They were on the edge of tears and on the edge of walking out of my employment, basically. And that’s when I said, “Enough’s enough.” I’ve just been repeating the behaviours of what I’ve learned, because every other person that I’ve worked for used that tactic of ruling by fear and intimidation. And then I’ve suddenly realised, “Okay, I’m going to try something different now.” And as if overnight, I switched – I turned a switch and I started to implement these things. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect overnight. But it made a change. It made a massive change. But not only that, it actually made an enormous change in my personal life. I was drinking heavily. I was quite unhealthy. I weighed 30 kilos more than I do now. And it was an entire life change for me to realise this and deal with my problems in a completely different way. And my positive effects were having a positive effect on the health-wise, which I thought was fantastic because I thought, “Hey, well okay, well if I’m feeling this negative emotion all day long. What’s the only output – could be more negativity?” So what I then did was I started going in, I started realising, “Okay, I need to realise that these people are people, and they need kindness. They’ve all got their own shit going on.”

Anna Sheppard  10:18

Yeah, you can have a little swear.

Bradley Jordan  10:19

I started to realise, “Am I allowed to swear?”

Anna Sheppard  10:22

Yeah, don’t worry. Sometimes it is the only word that can really do.

Bradley Jordan  10:28


So I realised that everyone has their stuff going on.

Anna Sheppard  10:34

And you wouldn’t be a chef, if you didn’t throw an F-bomb in everything.

Bradley Jordan  10:36

Yeah, exactly, right?  [laughter] You’d be like, “Is this guy even a chef?”

Anna Sheppard  10:41

“He’s a faker.”

Bradley Jordan  10:43

So I realised that I needed to treat them like individuals. And I needed to realise that was how I was going to get the best out of them. The shift that I saw in their – in the way that they reacted to me, and the way that they reacted to their work completely changed instantly. And the whole culture took a shift over probably a three or four-month period, where suddenly it wasn’t the right environment for certain characters. The negative atmosphere that was there went with those people as well. And what was left was a culture where it was a family. Suddenly, I felt like I was going in, I was working with my friends, I was working with people that were there, they all had their key jobs, they all had their key things. But initially, we were one unit, we worked as a unit.

Anna Sheppard  11:43

So you had a trigger that made you think, “Right, okay,” you got off and you’re like,”I don’t like myself anymore, right now.” And I can see the cause and effect and the consequences that you’re having, and to see – and this cycle that’s been created by learning from the wrong people and learning from the wrong leaders. And I think that shifting consciousness, where you’ve taken a step above what was going on and kind of have a bird’s eye view and a lockdown situation, did something happen that made you do that? Or did you wake up one day, and was a realisation? Was there an action or an event that occurred that made this happen? Is there anything you can actually remember?

Bradley Jordan  12:31

I had quite a run-in, as I said before, with a member of staff where I could have handled the situation very simply. I could [have] simply stated that what they’ve done was wrong, and,  “This is how we need to fix it.” And “This is how it needs to be from now on,” giving them the keys to succeed, and move on and forget about it. But I didn’t do it like that. I threw a tantrum. I yelled at them. I embarrassed them and made them feel like I felt. And that’s when – that was one of the main triggers. And how it seeped into my personal life was – I actually had a huge argument with my now fiancé. I got to the point where I realised that if I didn’t back up my behaviour, I was perhaps gonna lose her. And that was something that just simply couldn’t happen.

Anna Sheppard  13:30

So it was love.

Bradley Jordan  13:31

It was love. [laughter] It was laughter that made me see the love.

Anna Sheppard  13:37

So that kind of – how was that received in a predominantly male-dominated environment, where the certain behaviours are kind of historically or endorsed, as, you know, “Men should be men and step up. Don’t show emotion, that’s too soft. Like, you know, if you’re tired, you’re tired, we’re all tired deal with it.” How did you even go around tackling that environment and being an ambassador for empathy and kindness as a man, who’s up to fight his way through into leadership in a boy’s world? How did you even start with that?

Bradley Jordan  14:17

Well, to start with, actually half my crew is actually female, which is quite a different environment for a kitchen.

Anna Sheppard  14:26

Was that your decision?

Bradley Jordan  14:28

No, it wasn’t my decision. Obviously, I didn’t set out to say, “Right, I’m going to have half women, half men in my crew. But when I was rehiring through this transitional period, because as I said, that challenge wasn’t right for some people. And there were certain people couldn’t get on board with that. And I realised that the biggest thing that I had was the fact that I was the boss and I could make these changes and I could make the positive shift. The only person that was really going to drive it was me. So I had to drive it myself. The people needed to come along for the ride, or they needed to get out. That was basically how it went. And when I was re-hiring, it was simply that they were the best fit for the culture that I wanted to create in the workplace. It wasn’t that it had to be male or female. It was just – I was looking for people that could work without all the drama, and could work without all the unnecessary ego.

Anna Sheppard  15:36

And so you think, actually, by creating this new culture and holding people accountable to the standards that you’re trying to create in that space, you actually made it more appealing for women to want to work there?

Bradley Jordan  15:51

Yeah, that’s – I never really thought about it in that way. I did get a lot of female applicants, I’ve got equally a lot of male applicants as well. But I think actually what -upon doing the interview process, I think that perhaps maybe I came across them. And it was more desirable for them to want to work in an environment because I can imagine the things that I’ve been through to, even then, to happen to someone who’s female, would be – there’d be certain situations that would be horrific. [Situations] that maybe men are slightly more geared to deal with. But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that balance is the key. It really is. It’s not all shouting, and it’s not all butterflies and fairies at the same time. I feel like it has to be a balance, there has to be a balance between that love and that fear. Because I feel – I still believe that there has to be an element of fear, there has to be an element of fear in your boss, because otherwise, they’ll run amok – the people will run amok. If they’re not worried that their boss is gonna come down on them if they do something wrong, then that’s not going to be positive for the business.

Anna Sheppard  17:14

So with regards to that balance, which we’re talking about, and obviously we can go into the fear, you know, and most of it around for inspiration, motivation and that’s maybe that’s something, we can touch peers, again, in maybe a year’s time. [inaudible] So if you’re looking at purpose, and we’re gonna ask you, we’ve got about four minutes left, but we’re going to give you the money shot – the money question. Do you operate to a higher purpose now with the way that you go around things? Do you think to yourself, “Okay, this is why I exist. This is how I am contributing to a bigger purpose.” And what is it that drives that? You know, for some people, it’s fair – for some people, it may be about articulating their values very clearly. And they’re very firm with that or they’ve really spent time understanding what it is they want to do to make the world a better place, if that’s what they’re even interested in. Have you gone down that journey? Are you still on that journey?

Bradley Jordan  18:14

I think we’re all still on that journey. I think anybody who says they’ve got there, hasn’t got there. But yeah, basically, I think the massive shift that I saw was also that not only was I just a leader, not only was I just their boss, I suddenly became someone they confided in. Personally, I suddenly get it – I started getting personal problems coming to the table. And I realised that I was so obviously open and approachable, that people were coming to me with these issues, and I can actually help them. I’ve actually helped a few people with things in work and outside of work. And that made me really realise that, “Okay man, like this is something that I now have a skill that I have that makes me feel better than any perfectly cooked steak or lobster is ever going to make me feel,” and that they can do that. And if they can be happy in their jobs, and happy in their working environment, and I can help them to become better people, then it spreads like ripples on a pond. And they – where I have managed to help myself and maybe help one or two others, then if they may be helped someone and so on and so forth.

Anna Sheppard  19:42

So what – if we could talk about a couple of qualities, then we’ll probably – I’m gonna ask you one question. Then we’ll finish up with just asking you to give two or three examples of qualities that you’ve learned to be and that you might use in your own personality as a leader to make business a better place and to make, you know, the people who work with you feel good. But before that, for you to stay in this maintained kind of balance – what does that even look like on a daily basis? What tools are you using to maintain a balance within yourself as a leader?

Bradley Jordan  20:20

Personally, I’m very structured in the mornings, I get up and I do the same thing. Every morning, I get up, and I meditate, and I stretch, and I have my black coffee. I love making coffee, I love – I grind the beans myself and make the coffee myself. And that whole process that small, scientific little process where everything’s perfect and you get a beautiful end result, starts me off in a really good tone for the rest of the day. I feel calm, I feel happy, and caffeinated, of course. By the time I get to work, I’m ready to take on the day, I’m ready to be – I’m ready to – I’ve got my own shit sorted. So I can deal with this. Basically, I can go in and I can be like, “Hey, how are you?” And really mean it. And I feel like if I can segue into those qualities, and I feel like that is one of them, is actually asking someone how they are actually meeting it. Not just, “Oh, hi, how are you?” You know, actually, looking into someone’s eyes in the morning and say, “Hey, how are you? How was your evening? How you feeling today?” And I feel that is one of the main qualities that I think can really help. Then secondly, not just asking the question, actually listening because how many of us ask the question, and we’re so busy and preoccupied in what we’re doing, “Oh, yeah I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to check my emails. I’ve got to nip that in the bud.” But we don’t actually listen to the people.

Anna Sheppard  21:52

Is that anything – just on a final note – that you’re still working on?

Bradley Jordan  21:57

Yeah, both of those things. I feel sometimes – I will ask that question and then I noticed myself still thinking about something else, I’m not properly listening to the person across the table from me. But the good thing is I’m catching myself doing it, right. Which means that there is progress, and I feel like if I could share one thing with any of the leaders out there, just listen to your people. Take that time to ask them how they are, find out what’s going on in their life and how you can help them. And you’ll end up with a stronger team, one that rallies behind you. And you’re gonna end up working in a beautiful environment.

Anna Sheppard  22:47

Amazing. Thank you so much, Brad. That’s all we’ve got time for today on Project Good Boss, but keep on making kitchens kinder. See what I did there? [laughter] Thank you for being so honest. And I think it’s really good that we can get people in here talking to us and just telling it how it is, so people can truly relate to it. And we hope that if there’s anybody listening today that is working in an environment where they do have the influence and the power to be able to make those shifts, whether it’s in hospitality or any other, you know, historically challenging environment to be in. Tomorrow is another opportunity to turn everything around. And I think Brad is a really, really great example of that. So well, thank you so much.

Bradley Jordan  23:34

Thank you, Anna!

Anna Sheppard  23:35

And we’ll see you again soon.

Bradley Jordan  23:36

Thank you.

Anna Sheppard  23:39

Thank you for listening to this episode of Project Good Boss. Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise providing leadership coaching for corporate leaders, business owners and operators. We believe in a future where every leader is committed to creating a sustainable world of equality and opportunity for everyone. If you are a game-changing leader, and you have an amazing story of how your business is making the world a kinder and a better place, we would love to hear from you visit bambuddhagroup.com or slide into our DMs. And finally, you should know for every paid member we have in our network, we provide scholarships to reduce inequalities in leadership and business. Thank you to Sonic Union for editing this episode, Laura Roberts for writing and performing Project Good Boss and design by Flair Creative. Thank you for being kind today. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *