Leaders Must Say Thank You

Put simply…”Thank You” is a key part of leadership.

I’ll keep this one short.  The turkey is in the oven and all the sides are either comfortably prepared or queued appropriately.

In the midst of a holiday focused on giving thanks, I thought it apt to put in a plug for “thanks” as an element of leadership we mustn’t overlook. And, as is always appropriate when it comes to simple notions and time constraints (yes, I am actually cooking at the moment), I’m going to borrow a quote.

About 20 years ago, I stumbled upon the book Leadership Is An Art by former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree.  Mr. De Pree’s book has been one of the foundational influences on my personal leadership vision; and I love to see it on the shelves of people I know.

But, I digress.  In the midst of the book’s preamble is a simple quote that lays out what I believe to be one of the most elegant notions of leadership in an ocean of attempts at elegant notions of leadership.  It goes like this:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

I have digested this quote from many different perspectives over the years in trying to progress myself and the people I lead into a state of “artful” leadership.  It covers strategy, servanthood, obligation, and–perhaps most importantly–progress.  We never arrive.  It’s safe to say that I love this quote.

For the purpose of this post, it’s the bookends of leadership that De Pree defines that really stand out.

At the front is defining reality.  Without it, one is not a leader.  The leader’s definition of reality–where we are, where we are going, and the pressures and risks we face–is fundamental to leadership.  It establishes “we.”  It provides the touchstone for all other activity; and it’s the alpha and omega for any strategy.

It also lets those being led know that the leader is, in fact, a leader…not simply someone executing on somebody else’s vision and doing a job for a paycheck.  Just doing a job for a paycheck is the realm of high functioning managers and mercenaries. Mercenary cultures grow when leaders have no vision. Mercenary culture is incompatible with the notion of leadership as defined by Max De Pree simply because he starts it with vision–reality defined.

At the back–the last responsibility of a leader–is to say thank you.  Leadership…true leadership…is not finished until those being led have been thanked for their contribution to the effort that “we” have put forth.  Sure, thanks can come in the form of money, but I have to insist that a thank you cannot be simply monetary. Cash is necessary, but insufficient.

Thank you.  It’s integral to leadership.

As we celebrate this holiday…this season that focuses nominally on thanks, let’s focus on what it means to incorporate thanks into our leadership philosophy.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers.  And, for all of us…let’s take De Pree’s definition of leadership to heart.

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