Why We'd Hire Stephanie Izard

The winner of this season's Top Chef crown knew how to concede her misses and highlight her hits.

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There's an easy careers lesson to be culled from the drama of last night's Top Chef finale. Also—a not-so-easy lesson about frank humility and self-effacement at work.

Stephanie Izard, a chef from Chicago, won the crown after months of high-stress kitchen competition. For Izard, it was competition, rather than combat. For some of the others, it was combat. That's the easy lesson—fellow finale contestant Lisa Fernandes was argumentative and abrasive, and her conceit was onerous. She may have skated through to the final show, but there was no way that she would win.

The more complicated lesson has to do with Richard Blais, who faced the judges after the meal was complete and indicated that in cooking his meal—which had drawn neither raves nor hard censure—he had "choked a little." The judges looked dumbfounded. That such a talented chef would, at the most significant moment, fail to cook his best—and then fail to champion the work he'd done—was a shock.

I think there are some workplaces or situations where Richard's frankness would draw praise, so I can't wholly condemn what was, most likely, a fair concession: He wasn't at his best. But in many places, particularly competitive ones, you do your best or nearly your best, and you don't apologize for it. You defend your successes and minimize the damage of mistakes, rather than highlight them. Stephanie was great at this—if a judge pointed out that she'd missed on a dish and she agreed, she would briefly acknowledge the miss. It was just enough to show her own self-knowledge, but never so much that she had the judges dwelling on her shortcomings. She also knew when she'd nailed a dish. She'd say so, without a hint of the bravado that handicapped some of her colleagues.

It's important to hang on to a bit of pride at work—particularly after you've made a mistake. Never lie, never evade, don't make excuses—but move forward. (For further wisdom on this topic, see this excellent Outside Voices blog entry from Ask a Manager's Alison Green).


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