Many have suggested that one of the key practices of leadership is that of saying “thank you.” I heard it first from Walt Wright when I served with him when he was the president of Regent College. I have taken the suggestion to heart and have found that being intentional about saying “thank you”, while likely being a means by which others are encouraged, also helps me to see the good that is happening in the organization where I now serve as president.
What this means is that as part of my work I watch for examples of personal engagement or professional excellence – where someone has done something with remarkable grace and courage or someone has done their job with particular skill. Sometimes it is very much part of their job description; and when I say “thank you” they insist they were just doing their job. And sometimes it is very much “over and beyond”, outside of their sphere of responsibility, but they had peripheral vision, they saw what needed to be done and they did it. In most cases, folks are not looking for anyone to give them a particular commendation. They are “just doing my job” or “just doing what needed to be done.” And yet it is important to affirm and bless and acknowledge. It is a key means by which we cultivate institutional culture.
Sometimes it is a very significant contribution. A campus operations manager who worked over months with the science faculty in the planning and construction of a new chemistry lab. It was part of his job; but he did it with alacrity and attentiveness that had the entire science faculty deeply appreciative of the quality and character of his work. Sometimes it might be an action that on its own is relatively or seems relatively insignificant. Someone you see in the parking lot is helping an elderly person manage their walker, or someone comes into the facility and is a little lost and you note that your colleague simply asked if they could help that person find their way. And sometimes, of course, you say thank you to someone not because of a single thing they did, but how they manage their position or responsibilities week in and week out. Thus in the bank I learn that when the person knows I am with Ambrose University they tell me about “the young man who deposits your cheques each week” – from the university and he is so delightful to have come in. The clerks all know him by name, And I can come back to the campus and tell him that I appreciate how he represents us so well in that for those encounters he is the face of our university.
What this also means is that since I have decided to do this every day, I am alert to what is happening and noteworthy. And if towards the end of the day nothing has caught my attention I can trust my executive assistant to mention that “by the way, you might want to know that . . . . “ and I can head down the hall the give thanks for something I just heard about through the grapevine.
Why not after a board meeting, drop a note of thanks – perhaps an e-mail – mentioning how much you appreciated a particular contribution? Or the pastor who makes it a weekly practice to send out a Sunday afternoon e-mail to someone who said or did something in the morning service that merits a “thank you.”
As noted, I do this daily as a kind of spiritual practice. It helps me keep alert to the signs or indicators of the goodness of God in this organization – goodness that as often as not is expressed through the skill, professionalism, graciousness and good humour of my colleagues.