The Art of the Thank You

by Stephen T. Messenger

January 17, 2021

It was the day after one of my peers and good friends left the organization.  I walked into the office and staring me in the face that morning was a white envelope with my name on it.  Outside was his name professionally printed on quality cardstock.  Inside I found a handwritten note from my departed comrade thanking me for our time working together.  It wasn’t brilliant, articulate, or transformative.  Instead, it was a simple, heartfelt thank you from a professional who took the time to pen some words to a good friend.  This was the moment when I realized that leaders must master the art of the thank you—and I was failing.

I went on a journey the weeks after to learn how to thank people better.  In my sock drawer at home, I pulled out a handful of handwritten thank you notes from various people in my career.  Not shockingly, my drawer contained zero thank you emails I printed out to save.  Rereading those cursive notes I had, they helped me remember the great leaders I worked with.  They cared enough about another person to buy stationary, ponder why they are thankful, write it down, and seek out a benefactor.  It sounds so simple yet remains so rare.

A thank you is one of the most powerful tools a leader has in his arsenal.  This simple act demonstrates that a person values another enough to formally thank them for their impact.  In a sea of false accolades and inflated evaluation reports, a thank you differentiates leaders who care from those who care about themselves.  The best leaders take time every day to appreciate those who will never be written about in the history books but keep the organization successful.          

Admittedly, I realized I wasn’t thanking people nearly enough.  As a leader, every success you have is carried on the shoulders of those who work for you.  They deserve the credit and recognition for any accolades you may receive.  To master the art of the thank you, there are three buckets leaders should focus on:

1.  Meetings:  The best commander I ever had started every meeting and ended every meeting with a sincere thank you.  He stated that he was going to thank people so much that he expected people to write on climate surveys that he was over thanking them.  I don’t think that ever happened, but his simple act of appreciation always went a long way with the team.  It truly showed this leader cared.

2.  Daily Ambush Thanks:  Once a day, I find someone to verbally thank.  This could be in the building or over the phone.  It might be someone inside or outside the organization.  Face-to-face is always best, and the art of looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand, and thanking them from the heart goes a long way.  People desire to be seen and recognized by their leadership.  A thank you does both.     

3.  Handwritten Thank You Note:  This is where leaders make their money.  A handwritten, tangible thank you goes far beyond simply verbal recognition, and allows them to take that thanks home, share it with family and friends, and remember it for years.  By penning an appreciation note, leaders can give a legacy gift that lasts long after they leave the organization.  It demonstrates that the leader takes personal time to think about the importance of an individual, values their contribution, and goes out of his way to recognize their worth.

Invest in this process.  Purchase cards and envelopes with your name inscribed on the outside and blank inside.  Hand deliver or mail these cards to those who are making an impact in the organization.  They will receive them as a badge of honor and keep them in their sock drawer for years to come.

Leaders master the art of the thank you.  Your employees, peers, and yes, even your boss, deserve to be thanked.  They are working hard for the good of the organization and, sadly, are rarely recognized for their efforts.  It is up to you to find those that are making an impact, great or small, and thank them for supporting you.

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