Leadership Lessons from a TACO


I was at a taqueria recently and as I stared at my taco I realized tacos are global, they are not just a symbol associated with the Mexican cuisine. 

Just ask Taco Bell or Chipotle, there is something both simple and complex about a tortilla shell and its utility for being filled with all kinds of things for the purpose of satisfying a hunger.
Leadership is about satisfying hunger. Striving to make yourself or community better is based on a hunger that needs to be fulfilled. People satisfy collective hungers as leaders in unselfish acts of leadership, like raising money for a scholarship, helping a new business get started, running for elected office, mentoring young people, or volunteering for a nonprofit organization.


Like quality leadership, a good taco is put together in a certain way. The tortilla is the vehicle that carries the essence of what will satisfy a hunger. The strong mind of a leader is like the tortilla, it carries valuable lessons and experiences of success and failure that can help frame a situation or a challenge and turn it into an opportunity.
From studying the structure and functional purpose of a taco, I developed my TACO Leadership model (TLM) which has four key purposes when engaged. My TLM is:
• Transformational
• Adaptive
• Collaborative
• Outcomes based
As a leader, you must commit to making your actions Transformational. Like taking corn and transforming it into masa, which is the foundation of the tortilla. That corn is never the same again, the masa is transformed into a tortilla. A tortilla is a holder of the ingredients you put in the taco. The tortilla is like an organization that holds the dreams and goals that can transform a community or organization.
The next ingredient in my TLM is that it needs to be Adaptive to the context. A simple taco of just a tortilla, sal, limon y chile can satisfy the need to cure an immediate hunger. However, sometimes a taco is more complex and needs to satisfy a bigger appetite. In this case, one little tortilla cannot hold all the carne (meat) you need to put into it. (You may need to build more tortilla capacity or consider eating a burrito instead. As of yet, I have not conducted research on the leadership value of burritos.)
Another example is adapting to a taco de lengua (tongue). Adapting to a new or strange taste or texture is similar to changing an organizational culture, introducing a new technology, or creating a succession plan for new leadership. It takes trust, time and experience to develop the adaptive capacity to make a change.
Thirdly, my TLM is Collaborative. It can’t be just carne in the taco, there has to be diversity of flavors. A taco must be inclusive. Creativity is essential to customize your taco. With an open mind you can make bologna tacos, corn beef tacos or tacos de sushi. The right amount of chile/piquante on a taco is equal to the right amount of heat needed for people to work together.
My TLM has to be about Outcomes. You need to envision your ideal taco before you start and intentionally create the taco to satisfy a hunger. After you have eaten your taco you know when your hunger is cured. Getting good outcomes is based on how well you prepare, plan, measure success and take responsibility for meeting your hunger related goals.
Next time you have a taco, take a moment to reflect and think about the ingredients that make up your leadership qualities.

Roberto Carmona is the President and CEO of Crimson Leadership Group, Inc. in Chicago, IL

Roberto Carmona has nearly 20 years of professional experience in the areas of strategic planning, community based research, management, human resources, and leadership development in the federal government, the private sector and the non-profit sector.

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