Blue Cheese and People Management: So Much In Common


Lourdes Gonzalez, craft cocktail connoisseur, brunch indulger, movie fanatic.

This has nothing to do with smell, promise.

It is more about your reaction to eating said cheese. Blue cheese is one of those polarizing foods: some love it while others are not a fan. I am not a fan. Period. Have tried it several times, different versions, lovely settings… Still not a fan.

What’s the connection with people management you ask?

Well, the same happens with the people who manage us. We seem to either love them or tend to not be fans. Period.

A few days ago, while chatting with a good friend over a drink (no cheese involved), we remembered the “outlier” managers that evoked strong reactions, whether good or bad. I challenged my friend to a small competition: how many “Amazing”, “Awful” and “Average” managers have we had so far?

The results? Surprising! We realized we had quite a few “Amazing” and “Awful”, yet most of our managers fell under “Average”. And there was nothing average about them. They were all truly great human beings who simply did not get any airtime in our lives.

Why? They may have been more “parmesan” cheese in our lives. Nice folks that we didn’t have a strong reaction to. What could they have done differently to stand out as “Amazing”?

Blue Cheese vs. Parmesan Cheese?

If you are managing a team, what do you think your team will say… blue or parmesan cheese?   What will make you stand out as an “Amazing” manager?

First, think about your “Awful” and “Amazing” managers. How did they treat you? Did you share similar values (or not)? Did they give you some tough love to help you grow or did they never bother to give any feedback?

Next, think about your “Average” managers. What were some of the positive qualities they displayed that you may have overlooked?

Select two or three top qualities that you valued in your “Amazing” and “Average” managers and jot down at least two of the things you swore you would never become from the “Awful” category.

If you’re more experienced on the “Average” manager side of things and need a little “Amazing”/“Awful” inspiration, Hollywood is here to the rescue. From the Awful managers like “Devil Wears Prada” and “Office Space” to the Amazing role models like “McFarland, USA”, “Apollo 13”, “Invictus”, and “Coach Carter”, film can help you get a clearer picture.

Aligning Cheese Preferences

Armed with all this great info, it is now time to check with your team. What do they value as an  “Amazing” manager? Keep an eye on their verbal and non-verbal cues when they are around you. Do they seem comfortable in your company? Are they open and willing to engage you in conversation when they face a problem and need help?

Finally, ask for feedback. During 1:1 meetings, ask this question: ”What can I do more of or less of to help you be successful?” Watch for themes on their responses. Are they asking you to step away or be more involved? Are they asking for increased responsibility or more visibility into a particular project that you lead?

You’re Not Pizza!

Match these themes up with the qualities you value and see where your style falls. Now, the answer may be slightly different according to each team member. This is an ongoing effort where you adapt your style to what your direct reports need from you.

Remember, you can’t make everyone happy, you’re not pizza. But you can work everyday to tailor your people management style to your team, the circumstances, and still be true to your values – aka, your favorite type of cheese. Mine is goat cheese if you were wondering!


Catherine Malloy Cummings

20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL, 60606, United States