About 11 months ago I wrote a blog post called Verbal Appreciation is a Big Deal. I was reminded of that as I read two things this week. Many of my Facebook friends are doing “I am thankful for…” posts this month. I started thinking that rather than being thankful for things we need to be thankful for people around us and at Thanksgiving you should say “thank you” to those people. In fact you should say it all the time.
People like to be appreciated
The first thing I read was a blog post by Shawn Murphy called the Role of Meaning-Makers in Employee Engagement, in which he said “Engaged employees, hell human beings, will put forth their best effort when they see they are appreciated.” My blog post of last year demonstrated that same thing in using the example of my son on his job. His boss often told him how much he liked having him work for the company. It worked. My son worked hard and both he and the company benefited from that verbal appreciation.
The second thing I read was from one of the true masters of management consulting, Tom Peters. (If you don’t know Tom Peters then shame on you.) A piece he did called Acknowledgement! gives example after example of the importance of showing people that you know they are there and you appreciate their efforts. Here are some of the quotes he used:
- “The deepest principal in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” —William James. Peters points out that this was a central theme in Dale Carnegie’s work How to Win Friends and Influence People where it was labeled the BIG secret of dealing with people.
- “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.” —John Dewey
- “Employees who don’t feel significant rarely make significant contributions.” —Mark Sanborn
- “Society is a vehicle for earthly heroism. Man transcends death by finding meaning for his life. It is the burning desire for the creature to count. What man really fears is not extinction, but extinction with insignificance.” —Ernest Becker, Denial of Death (My Emphasis.}
That last quote hit home for me. That is a burning desire for me. I want to matter! I don’t want to go to my death having made no impact and to quickly be forgotten. I am sure many of you have the same feeling. That is one of the reasons I write. And I greatly appreciate it when someone says “I really liked your piece.” Or they say “You consistently put our great material. I learn something all the time from you.”
“Engagement is a leadership act.”
Those words where written by Shawn Murphy. He completed that thought with “Not a management task.” He says, as does Tom Peters, that far too often management sees appreciation and acknowledgement as something that they “have to do” as opposed to something they “must do continually” to be effective leaders. This acknowledgement or appreciation doesn’t always have to be spoken. Peters tells the story of a question he asked a flight attendant once. He wanted to know if flyers ever said “thank you” as they left the plane. Her response surprised Peters. She said ““What registers with me is not the words, but whether or not they bother to make eye contact.” As Peters notes “…the perfunctory “Thank you” from the distracted passenger, rarely looking up, is surprisingly impersonal. The eye contact, on the other hand, is an act of intimate human engagement—sincere acknowledgement of the particular flight attendant’s attentiveness and courtesy.” Remember that the next time you exit a plane.
A lesson for leaders
I will end this post with a lesson for leaders. You need to pay attention to those around you and acknowledge their existence. This lesson can be best illustrated by an example from the biography of General and President U.S. Grant. Taken from a Confederate soldier’s diary was the story of Union officers passing by a group of Southern prisoners. The passed by without even looking at the group. Then came General Grant. “‘When General Grant reached the line of ragged, filthy, bloody, despairing prisoners strung out on each side of the bridge, he lifted his hat and held it over his head until he passed the last man of that living funeral cortege. He was the only officer in that whole train who recognized us as being on the face of the earth.’” From the biography Grant by Jean Edward Smith.
So as we enter into this holiday season, remember one of the best gifts you can give to your families, friends, co-workers and employees is a kind word and a nod of acknowledgement and then keep doing it all year round.