Start and End with Thanks

by Stephen T. Messenger

November 23, 2021

“God gave you a gift of 84,600 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say thank you?”

–William Arthur Ward

I worked for a senior military leader who used to start and end every single meeting with “Thank you.” In large public forums, he would often say he hoped someone would submit a suggestion box comment with:

“The boss thanks us too much! Stop it. We get it, he’s thankful!”

I’m not sure that ever happened, but I do know this leader lived a life of gratitude through cards, notes, handshakes, and continuous verbal affirmation. I was inspired by how a senior leader understood that true leadership was about challenging others to achieve their maximum standard and then thanking them profusely for it.

In a commonly told story, there was a woman who worked as a janitor in a company for decades. One particular year, there was a change of management, and the new owner decided to write a thank you note to every employee in the company.

The woman read her card and began crying. She asked to go home, and her supervisor, thinking she was ill, let her take the rest of the day off.

The backstory was that this woman never once received a thank you of any kind from anyone in the company. Over multiple decades, not one person expressed any type of gratitude whatsoever for her very important services. When she heard there would be a new boss, she decided to quit.

The very same day she received the thank you note. She was overwhelmed. The gratitude this new owner showed through his note made her change her mind and remain with the company.

As a leader, I think about how many people do so much for me, and I fail to thank them. There are many followers that work hard, and I know I often miss the mark in recognizing their achievements—this is even after significant effort to recognize people. Still, I don’t get everyone and can do better.

Great leaders thank others. Not just those who work for them, but those who work around them. Here are some questions to ponder when you think about your leadership thankfulness:

  • Do you start and end every meeting with a thank you?
  • How often do you go out of your way to recognize someone’s performance?
  • When was the last time you wrote a thank you note and personally handed it to someone?
  • Have you called someone recently, not texted, just to show appreciation of their hard work?
  • Who was the last person you told, “I’m proud of you”?

Thankfulness is not one-time event; it’s continuous. If you aspire to be a leader known for gratitude, you have to actively practice it.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a great time to start expressing your appreciation for your people’s hard work. After all, if you’re doing it right and not micromanaging, they are the ones doing everything. Today is the day to recognize them.

Start small. With 84,600 seconds in the day, take a few of them to thank those who work hard on your behalf.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for leaders who strive to be better everyday!

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