I have a good friend who puts extra salt on everything. With some effort, I have been able to convince them to at least try the food before adding salt, but after a taste, the salt always goes on. We have five basic tastes: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami (the taste of glutamic acid). Salt is used as a universal flavor improver because at low concentrations it will reduce bitterness but increase sweet, sour, and umami, which is desirable for sweet recipes. At higher concentrations, it suppresses sweetness and enhances umami, which is good for savory things. Salt stimulates the taste buds causing them to become more sensitive to whatever other flavors are present. To put it another way, if taste had a volume knob, salt would turn it up.
To the Romans, salt was extremely valuable due to its use in preserving food, especially meat and fish. Soldiers in the Roman army were sometimes paid a stipend to purchase salt. Their monthly allowance was called “salarium” (“sal” being the Latin word for salt). This Latin root can be recognized in the French word “salaire,” and it eventually made it into the English language as the word salary.
Of course, much has been said and written historically with salt as a metaphor. “Take with a grain of salt,” from a Roman antidote for poisoning. “Worth their salt,” from the practice of paying for things or paying someone with salt. “Salt of the earth,” from what Jesus said about his followers who were being persecuted. But it is in the theme of enhancement and preservation that I want to apply the salt metaphor to our leadership.
Our responsibility is to enhance the performance of our team and preserve our culture. In that respect, we are like salt to the communities we serve. What should make us worth the salaries we earn—our salt, so to speak—is our clear, consistent, and contagious effort to increase the flavor of our organizations.
Salt is great as an enhancer because it brings out the flavors in food without muddying things with side flavors. Leaders should clarify as they enhance by focusing attention on the things that will bring our mission and vision to reality. One of the best ways we do this is to communicate praise and appreciation whenever someone does something that is in alignment with our values and our mission. In other words, praise what you want more of.
Another striking thing about salt is its stability. You can count on the impact salt will have on food or any other process because its reactions with other compounds are predictable and consistent. When our interactions with our team are erratic, we undermine the potential of our people because they must expend energy trying to anticipate our next move. When we are consistent in our communication and response, we stabilize our team and allow them to focus their energy on achieving our goals.
Once you have put salt on your food, you can’t take it out. It permeates the dish. The impact of our leadership should be contagious. Our saltiness should spread to everyone in the organization, encouraging them to be salt too. When we are transparent and vulnerable it opens the door for others to be also, and it increases trust. When we praise people and give them the credit for their work, it encourages collaboration instead of competition. When we communicate our mission and vision, it leads to people making decisions and taking actions that are consistent with our goals. Our leadership should bring about leadership in others. Jesus said we were to be salt to the people around us. In its highest form, this commission was about being an example of God’s love. As leaders, we are called to be salt too. Salt that enhances the performance of our teams by clear and consistent communication and praise. Salt that preserves the culture of valuing people intrinsically and equally by consistent and contagious care and respect for everyone on our team. Like my friend’s food, we are supposed to be “salty”, and that is good, because being salty is The Kimray Way.