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The greatest of virtues
Aug 2, 2013

The greatest of virtues

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others"

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

A lot has been written over the years about 'employee engagement' — about how to keep employees happy, engaged, at work, and reduce the risk of top performers leaving. A great deal of money has also been spent on engagement surveys and employee engagement programs.

There is an easy way to make sure employees remain engaged and loyal and it doesn't have to cost any money. And that is by saying 'THANK YOU,' and saying it often. Of course, it is one of many tools for ensuring engagement but it goes hand in hand with being respected and valued, and having a supervisor, manager or leader they respect.

Margie Warrell also wrote about this important aspect of leadership.

As a leader, or potential leader, you will have many people doing many different things for you each and every day. Try noticing those things, acknowledging them, and saying thank you. Staff will feel appreciated and are more likely to want to do more for you, feeling acknowledged and appreciated.

Take it one step further than saying thank you — say it out loud in the presence of others, and make it specific. Don't just say 'thanks for that'. Say, for example, 'thanks for getting that data to me so quickly — it really made getting my report to the client on time easier'. Or 'the client was really happy with my report — thanks so much for your input and your quick turn around time'.

I'll give you a specific example of the incredible effect of gratitude. When working in a large professional services firm many years ago, the business development team was working to a tight deadline to get a tender document out on a Monday. A few people were asked to work over the weekend to make sure it was finished on time.

I spoke to the managing partner on the Monday and mentioned the people who had given up their weekend — at all levels. Some worked in BDM, some were lawyers who wanted to win the project, and some were admin staff, responsible for the typing, collating and copying of the document. I suggested he send an email to them to thank them. He asked me to draft a quick email for him. Now I am not one of those people who spend their time wondering if something someone asks me to do is my job or not. In that moment, my job was to make him look good, and make all of those people feel appreciated. So I drafted the email, sent it to him, but asked him to send the email individually, not as a group email, which he did.

He came to see me later — one of the word processing staff had (he had been told), burst into tears when she got the email. No one (NO ONE) of 'importance' in any organisation she had worked for, had ever said 'thank you' to her like that. Acknowledged that, while, she may have been paid overtime, her commitment was what was valued, and her contribution to the firm in getting that job out the door.

He was stunned by this, and the effect it had on her — he went out of his way from then on to make sure he knew when staff had gone 'above and beyond'. And he always thanked them. It became a healthy virus in the office — because other people started acknowledging their work mates and saying thank you.

"No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude."

- Alfred North Whitehead

But the really good news is that studies show that the art of expressing gratitude increases the sense of well being in those expressing it — it is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, empathy and also creativity. This certainly was the case in the example above. I know he felt like he was a better leader for it, and he knew he was making a difference. And pretty soon I didn't have to keep telling him the good news stories — he found out about them, or noticed them himself.

Ask yourself — do you want to be the person your staff most look forward to seeing when you walk into the office? Try acknowledging them and finding a reason to thank them every day.

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