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Finding ‘sweet’ success: How leadership is like baklava

Like the recipe for the age-old pastry, leadership styles evolve, says UND Professor of Geography Douglas Munski

Douglas Munski, professor of geography at UND, compares baklava to the practice of leadership as part of UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series. Joe Banish/UND Today.

What do leadership and baklava have in common?

More than you might think, said Douglas Munski, professor of Geography at UND since 1978, in his 18:83 Speaker Series talk on Feb. 14. That’s because baklava – a popular dessert throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Caucasus – provides valuable lessons on the importance of adaptability and resolve.

Leadership is a seed that must first be sown, then perfected over time – much like the evolution of the pastry’s recipe, Munski said.

“The first baklava recipes are traced to the Assyrians in the eighth century before common era,” he said. “This is a simple mixture of chopped nuts, honey and dough. It’s an old concoction that remains viable today.

“Thus, it helps us recognize the concept that good leadership takes time to produce and remain viable under new circumstances.”

The 18:83 Speaker Series happens each Wednesday afternoon. That’s when campus and community leaders visit the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs to provide insight into effective leadership, timing their addresses at 18 minutes and 83 seconds – a figure that coincides with the university’s founding year.

Over the centuries, Munski continued, baklava’s recipe has been modified and diffused by several cultures – ancient Greece, Persia, Armenia and the Ottoman Empire, to name a few – while still using the original formula as a guide.

Munski also cited the example of Turkish baklava and its meticulous preparation process, which he said “must be rolled so thin that when held up to the person standing behind, can be seen as if it is through a net curtain,” as a metaphor for the importance of transparency within leadership.

Leadership “requires both attention to detail and to process, plus patience for achieving the best results,” he added.

How else is leadership like baklava?

  • Leadership may or may not leave you with the right taste when you first sample it … but give it another try.
  • Every bakery making baklava will have a baker who is supreme. However, not everyone will agree on a baker or leader’s authority, but an organization must have a means to resolve conflict to remain productive.
  • Leadership, like baklava, is layered. You must delegate responsibilities properly to “achieve the right flavor.”
  • Leadership, like the honey in baklava, is often sticky and demands that leaders clean up messes.
  • When the requisite ingredients of effective leadership – the right person, moment and project – align, it can lead to “sweet” success.

The 18:83 Speaker Series will continue at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, with UND Student Body President Ella Nelson and Vice President Connor Ferguson.

Attendees listen to Professor Douglas Munski’s 18:83 Speaker Series address. Joe Banish/UND Today.