One day I came back from the bakery shop with the perfect thing to invigorate the culture of my organization. No, not doughnuts, and not cookies, either. I had just come back from my monthly peer group professional development meeting with an idea that would help me cultivate a culture of gratitude at our technical college.
Another CEO in this group, a friend who runs a well-known bakery, told us about his employee recognition program, and it sparked an idea. Soon, we launched our Tech Token program, and with it, a unique way to systematize consistent behaviors of gratitude throughout our campus. Any time a team member exhibits behavior reflecting our values, goes above and beyond the call of duty, or serves students in some special way, they are awarded a Tech Token. These tokens are custom coins that serve as a tangible expression of recognition that can be saved up and redeemed for a small cash bonus. The program never would have come about if I hadn’t taken four hours a month to participate in a peer coaching group.
Professional development is one of those “important but not urgent” things on our to-do lists. We know we need to sharpen our own saw, but too often we find excuses to put it off. Things come up, deadlines approach and new issues grab our attention. During these times of busyness, it can seem like it doesn’t make sense to leave the office for a few hours to attend a professional development meeting. That’s why I make the decision to attend long before that day.
Making good decisions is critical in leadership. And to make good decisions, it helps tremendously to be objective, to be in a calm state, to be unpressured. I developed what I call my Leadership Cookbook to help me make decisions in advance, at the beginning of the year when I’m reflectively thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the coming 12 months.
A cookbook includes recipes with specific instructions on how to create successful dishes. My Leadership Cookbook is a list of about 25 behaviors that I know are important to have a successful year, but that I might have a tendency to procrastinate about. I include items like professional development, personal conversations with people on my team, demonstrating that I value someone else’s idea and sending handwritten thank you notes. I also include personal things like doing pushups, taking vacation days, or having lunch with my wife. These are all things that I know are important, but they can seem less important when my workday gets busy or stressful. So, I decide in advance that I’m going to do these things a certain number of times during the year. And I keep score weekly.
Deciding up front to commit at least four hours a month to do professional development gave me the push I needed to be at that peer group meeting where the Tech Token idea originated. If I had waited until the day of the meeting to make the decision to go, I might have skipped it, thinking I was too busy.
My Leadership Cookbook helps me hold myself accountable and make better decisions all year long. I modify the list of behaviors from year to year, but the cookbook concept has helped me for many years. Of course, some decisions will have to be made in the heat of the moment, but I’m better equipped to handle those situations because I’ve already cleared the deck by making other decisions well ahead of time. ●
Dennis Wilke is president of Rosedale Technical College