Yesterday, I held an end-of-the-school-year debriefing with some of my key administrators. These are the people whose work helps assure that classes are scheduled, that students get enrolled, that our technical programs operate, that our online, on-campus and outreach activities take place. These are the people who work long hours handling complex tasks that are essential to the functioning of our college. They are not the only ones—they are the ones with whom I met yesterday.
We had some preliminary semi-formal conversation about a few issues, including the monumental task of transitioning from an often dysfunctioning and occasionally collapsing student information system to a new one that we are hoping will lead us directly from Egypt into the Promised Land. Frankly, some are worried there might be a bit of wandering in the wilderness time. It has been a more challenging than usual year: the SIS issues, key changes in several administrative processes, a predatory move by a large university threatening the concurrent enrollment program we’ve operated for two generations in area high schools, a heavy cloud of threatened funding reduction from the state and dramatic turnover in staff and faculty. We talked about some of those for nearly forty-five minutes.
After that, I handed each one a sheet of paper and asked them all to write their name on the top of their sheet. Then, we passed the sheets to the person on our right. Each person was instructed to then write down something they liked, admired or appreciated about the person whose name was listed at the top. By the time the sheets got back to the original owner, there were several positive, appreciative comments, each signed by the person who wrote it. Every face at the table softened for a few moments as we each read our individualized support document. Then, there was a series of “thank you’s” and meaningful looks across the table.
After that, I had each person write down something from this academic year that brought them a sense of pride, satisfaction or accomplishment. “You don’t have to share these if you don’t want to,” I directed, “But you will be welcome to do so.” Everyone opted for the sharing, to which everyone responded with nods of agreement and expressions of support, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good one,” or something similar.
The next part of the meeting was something I stole from Zig Ziglar. “Write down five things you like about your job.” As we went around the circle, I added a few more things to my list. But the first thing everyone else mentioned was already the first thing on my list: the people we work with.
These are not the only people to whom I owe a great deal for their work, dedication and commitment. That longer list would include the department chairs, other members of the administrative group, our teachers and a host of other employees at the College, all of whom I trust already know that I love and appreciate them. I am blessed to be working with a core group of key people who share a consistent professionalism, an unswerving drive for excellence, commitment to students and a strong but unpretentious faith.
I wanted us to close out the year with an awareness that their colleagues support and appreciate them. I wanted us to focus for a while on the positive and to remember that even in our challenging times there are good things going on.
I could have finished up the year without doing this with this small group but I have learned that people need to know they are valued, respected and supported. They need to know, not suspect, presume or wish. If I do not deliberately show my appreciation to those around me, they will assume that at best they are taken for granted or that I just don’t care. Even if neither is true, how will they know?