I had asked one of my employees to come into work early.
I was managing a small team of graphics professionals, those people who know how to use Photoshop to create works of art and can design websites in their sleep. I always felt a little unqualified. (If you must know, my college background and training are in journalism, not graphic design or computers.) She was not that excited about the idea and she let me know by berating me for 30 minutes straight.
My big mistake? I forgot to say two simple words.
I'll hold you in suspense here for a bit, because I have another example.
I made a major mistake on an article once, but a copy editor caught it before it went to publication. It would have been embarrassing for all of us, and I was incredibly indebted to this person. This time, I had learned my lesson. Not only did I say the two words, I copied everyone else on the staff and even posted about it on Twitter. (Bonus points if you remember the tweet from long ago.)
That's right, every great leader says "thank you" constantly. Here's why.
Good leaders rose to a position of power and control by their own innate resourcefulness. They used the old expression to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and maybe took the phrase a little too seriously. Good leaders are smart, make good decisions, and tend to run a tight ship. From what I've seen, these leaders are a bit isolated because, you know--they're the only ones who know how to do the work. They sit in a corner office and make silent commands by email. They pull levers that create cogs within the business ecosystem (or send people to the unemployment line). The one common trait of average leaders is they work alone.
Great leaders don't rise to a position of power and control at all. In fact, you might not even notice them. Why is that? Because they blend right into the team and work alongside everyone else. They don't say "thank you" because it's the right thing to do, or a smart business decision, or a way to promote their own rapid propulsion into the upper ranks of management. They say thank you in the same way you might say "thanks" to an Uber driver for reaching your destination on time or you might show gratitude to a waiter who brings the food out while it's actually hot.
What creates a great leader is this sense that there is no way you could ever do anything great and magical in any job unless it was a team effort. Great leaders blend in because they are literally only one of the people on a great team. Just because you write the checks doesn't mean you get to treat people like you write the checks. In fact, the act of "writing the checks" itself is a way to say "thank you" to employees. So is the primo coffee in the snack room. Gratitude, as I've said before, is an attitude. It's particularly important in business. Without it, bad things happen.
Like, for example, getting berated. The employee who came into work early didn't see me as a great leader. She saw me as a curmudgeon. I had hired her, trained her in the job, set her salary, and gave her performance reviews, but because I never said the two words that matter, she didn't really see me as the boss. She didn't work that hard. She did the job and that's it, because my inability to recognize her efforts meant she didn't bother making any efforts. She eventually left for a better job, likely seeking someone who would recognize what she had to contribute.
Who do you need to thank right now? Take the time to do it. Then, do it again. And again. And again. Look for ways to thank those around you and to realize that you wouldn't be running the accounting department or handling the big PR campaign if it wasn't for the people around you. When you say two simple words, you suddenly unlock a wellspring of goodwill among every single employee.