Years ago, at my first corporate job I took it upon myself to hand out awards to people at the end of the year.  I would print up a nice looking certificate and hand them out to people that I thought deserving.   At the time I was a young engineer working at a large defense contractor.  I was at this company for a little under four years, and I handed out the awards for the last two of those years.   The awards included catagories such as Engineer of the Year,  Rookie of the Year, etc…   I would usually hand them out on Christmas Eve, which was traditionally a very slow work day. 

At the time, my creation of these awards raised the ire of a few of the many middle managers that I somehow reported to.  Who was I to create and give out awards?   I left that company in 1995,  I recently found out that one person who got an award from me is now a senior manager at the company.  He no longer lives in a cubicle but now has a nice comfortable office.  Hanging on the wall in his office is the award that I gave him,  complete with the forged signature of the then President of the company.  He tells people its the only recognition he’s recieved in almost twenty years at that company.

Years later, ie now, I am at another company, and yes I hand out annual awards.  They are no longer certificates to be framed, but are now scrap pieces from the machines that we build that i have repurposed into plaques, whiteboards, coat hooks, or other office decorations.   These awards started out as thankyous to people that helped my department out during the past year.  But, as startups evolve into real companies, sometimes actions turn into traditions.  I now received nominees throughout the year, I coordinate my selections with HR and other managers.    As the company grows, i now hand out more of them each year, and its become a chore.

Each year I continue to hand them out.  Someone asked me why do I do this.  My answer was that if I didn’t do it, who would?  I know some of these plaques and decorations will be on someones wall twenty years from now.

That’s what leaders do…..