Ruining Habit #1: Ineffective managers don’t express gratitude

In this mini-series, 7 Habits to Ruin Your Team, we’re going to talk about seven “management smells” I see too often.
(These are like “code smells”, but for your management work.)

Let’s start with a story…

In college I was a payphone repairman. (You remember payphone’s, don’t you?) The job wasn’t too bad, it fit my school schedule, and had a bit of technical challenge.

The owner, Jim, was a thankless guy. He was the kind of boss who expected you to do your job without comment, but made sure you knew his job was MUCH harder than yours. In addition, turning in a timesheet was an opportunity for him to “negotiate” your hours down a bit.

As you might expect, Jim NEVER said “Thank you”. He suspected everyone around him was stealing him blind, if only he could figure out how. He trusted no one, and appeared to hate everyone. (It would be an understatement to say it was an horrid place to work.)

One day, after 2 years of working for Jim, I opened my paycheck and gasped. There, on the check, was the smallest sticky note I’d ever seen… with a single word handwritten on it.


I’d never seen a single ounce of gratitude from Jim, and then out-of-the-blue comes this note! He did notice my work. He didn’t hate me. He was thankful for my efforts.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say what I did next. I took that note and put it in my wallet, and kept it there as a reminder for three years.

It reminded me that my work mattered, even a bit. That Jim was thankful, even a tiny bit. Knowing that Jim was thankful, gave my work a bit more meaning. I held my head up a bit higher, knowing that someone noticed my efforts.

Looking back, I think it’s a bit sad. Pathetic, really, to have such a strong emotional response to such a small gesture.

But that note fed a deep, universal need in me to be appreciated.

What did I learn from this?

  • Gratitude matters. People need to feel appreciated by you. They need to know their work matters, and not simply in financial terms. They need to know you appreciate them in order to work through roadblocks, political chaos, and difficult customers.
  • Gratitude isn’t about big, grand gestures. It works best when it’s personal, between two people. The note was from Jim to me. Not a plaque with the company name on it. It is personal, between two people, not corporate.
  • Gratitude is a profound motivator. I was shocked at how much differently I felt about the work after I got Jim’s note. It motivated me in ways that still surprise me. I cleaned those payphone’s with a bit more care. I was a bit nicer to the customers. I could feel it made a positive difference in my attitude.

Now, was I reading too much into this? Oh, most certainly! Jim probably was in a very good mood (or possibly drunk) when he wrote checks that day. He probably gave one of those notes to everyone. I’m certain he doesn’t remember it to this day, wherever he is.

The amazing thing is that none of those factors changes the emotional impact that note had for me.

That’s the power of gratitude.

Ineffective managers don’t express gratitude.

From my experience, these managers come in two varieties.

  1. Those whom aren’t thankful, don’t care, and are self-centered.
  2. Those whom are thankful, but don’t know how/when/if to express it.

I’m going to assume you’re the second kind of manager.

This is the manager who’s uncomfortable (afraid?) of being thankful. Afraid it won’t look “Managerial”. Afraid that simply saying “Thank you” without giving a monetary reward will be scoffed at. They might be afraid of the vulnerability it takes to recognize someone else’s hard work. They might feel being that vulnerable and honest will make them look weak, or touchy-feely.

These kind of managers often tell me: “I should say ‘Thank you’ more, but I never know how, or if it will be received well. Better to say nothing, than something I’d regret. Plus, they know I appreciate them.”

In the end, they are afraid to take off their ‘boss’ mask, and have an honest relationship with their team. If this is you, here’s three ways you can express thankfulness to someone on your team:

  1. Hand write a “Thank you” note to them. You could do it on a sticky note, like Jim. Or, you could use an entire piece of paper! Keep it short, and focused on something specific.
  2. Write a “Thank you” email to them, and CC: your boss. Make it something semi-formal that can go into their permanent file, and make sure your boss see’s it so you can use it in their next evaluation.
  3. At your next one-on-one meeting, finish this sentence: “Thank you for doing XXXX, I really appreciated it. I know this job gets busy, but I appreciate your attention to that matter.”

Can you think back to a time when your boss / client was thankful to you? How did you feel? Hit REPLY and tell me about it!

But don’t forget to tell your team you appreciate them, as soon as possible. Until next time!


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