I’ve discovered there are some leadership secrets to making cookies with your kids

Each year (actually a few times each year), we unpack all the ingredients and utensils to bake cookies.  It’s one of those traditions that is a father-child bonding moment in our family.

And, we all love cookies.

My Leadership Secrets

Create a Shared Vision

Most of the time, it’s not me who plans the date and gets everyone excited. Instead, the kids are the ones screaming for it. Each has a vision in their of what they want as cookies.

There are all kinds of ideas; “Let’s make chocolate chip cookies!” shouts one voice.  “No, let’s make cut-outs!” shouts the response.  “How about gingerbread cookies,” comes another option.

My compromise is “How about we make cut-outs this time. We can make chocolate chip cookies any time of the year. Now, what will your cookie look like,” I ask to each.

Leaders get all kinds of demands and options from those they lead; that is, if they’ve been proactive in requesting ideas. Some of these are simple and easy to accomplish and agree on.

Others are much more difficult. At all times, it’s not good enough to decide and dictate. It’s important to hear all members and provide a reasonable vision based on compromise.

cookie ingredients

Create a Plan

The first act we take in our tradition is to pull out all of the ingredients. We have to ensure we have all of the items necessary to make the right cookies; including a recipe.

Each recipe has a distinct set of ingredients, along with the process to put them all together in the right proportions.

If we don’t have an ingredient, it sure is helpful to know that upfront, rather than waiting until the end to determine we have to stop and get something else.

Ingredients also remind me of how each of us as team members brings a unique characteristic to the whole.

We all have gifts and talents and skills that can be leveraged. We all add a little of ourselves to the team. Being effective as a leader here means knowing how to mix the ingredients together at any given point in order to get the best result.

Great leaders know how to compensate for a skill they don’t have by going outside the team to get it.

Flour is the base and the most prevalent ingredient in almost all types of cookies, just like respecting and being authentic are the main ingredients in leading others.

How much of the other ingredients, listening, visioning, communicating, and managing, is all up to the result desired.

mixing

Take Action

As the kids gather around the kitchen island (some standing on chairs), they all shout out for what they want to do. “Can I put the butter in?”  “Can I put the sugar in?”  “Can I mix it together?”  Everyone wants to do everything, but I know they can’t. Mixing the ingredients together is easy at first, but gets much harder as more stuff is added.

The 4-year-olds get to mix first, but that has to be passed onto the older siblings as more dough is made. Through all the chaos is one chant that everyone remembers.

As an ingredient is used, I ask, “When we’re done with the sugar…” and the kids all respond in unison, “…we put it away.”  It’s a great verbal reminder as they watch me put things away.

During the action phase, it’s important to assign the right tasks to the right people. Those who have strengths and desire in a certain area should be given those areas of action.

The right mix of strengths and skills throughout the process is crucial to effective outcomes. This is also a good time for cross-training.

While the twins are not strong enough yet to mix all the dough, they get to watch and learn from others. This is also a critical time to reinforce what the goal is and what we stand for.  “We put it away,” is a great reinforcement of values of the team. This is a great method for ensuring vision sticks.

As leaders, our vision should be so over-communicated that others are saying it to us before we get the chance to; and teams should see us acting in accordance with the vision and values.

Mentor the Next Leader

As we prepared to make our first batch and laid out all of the ingredients, we realized we were out of vanilla. Not wanting to delay the process and lose the excitement the kids had, I took this as an opportunity to let someone else lead.

I turned to my 10-year-old daughter, and asked her to take over in my place. She jumped at the chance. We reviewed the recipe and all of the ingredients needed. As I was walking out the door, Megan was taking charge and already had her twin brothers washing their hands in preparation.

Megan was ready; all she needed was an opportunity. She had been watching me and working with me to make the dough for several years. Over the past two or so, she seemed bored and disinterested in the process. In reality, like so many of those we lead, she was looking for the next challenge. She’d been there and done that, and was looking for more responsibility.

How do we know when the next person is ready to lead? We always look for the one who volunteers first and continues to get involved with the tasks.

That’s initiative and is appropriate, but don’t count out the one who is sitting back seemingly disinterested. They could very well be the one ready and waiting for the next challenge; likely they are pursuing that next challenge without you.

decorating cookies

Realize the Vision

The last step in our process is frosting and decorating the cookies. We have a stash of food coloring and sprinkles, so everyone can make their favorite designs. In the end, we have the traditional red Santa, blue bells, green stockings and striped candy canes. We also have a mixture of green Santa, purple bells and striped stockings.

Even though each cookie comes from the same dough, each child makes his own end result by frosting and decorating their way. Not all of them look like the picture I had in my head, but that’s what makes leadership so great – our teams decide the detailed end-state within the vision we created. Allow them the flexibility and creativity to put a little of themselves in the product.

Remember the Journey

Before all the cookies are frosted, some are already missing. “Where did the blue star go,” I ask? “I don’t know,” comes the reply from a smiling, blue-lipped boy.

Over the next week or so, many of the cookies will be eaten with joy, but many are also forgotten about. Remember that the joy is often in the making of something as much as or more than the thing itself. Be sure to celebrate both.

As we put the final cookies away, the sink is stacked with pans and utensils, and the floor is covered with sprinkles. It’s Dad’s job to clean up. Okay, not everything translates to business; the twins are only 4-years-old after all.

What Are Your Leadership Secrets?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.
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