I am not a naturally effusive person. I am not proud of this fact, but when left to my own base devices people in my life are not always aware of how important they are to me and my work. After a lot of life lessons and professional reading, I do understand how important it is for people to feel appreciated and understood through an “attitude of gratitude.” As part of my efforts to become a better leader, I’ve developed some strategies to help me communicate my thanks with my staff, colleagues, and community.
At the Illinois Library Association conference last October, I attended an interesting dinner where several of the folks around the table mentioned lovely emails they’d received from another librarian who was sitting with us. Time after time, they mentioned how in moments of working life frustration, they went back to those positive emails from her to affirm the work they were doing, and it kept them soldiering on. The bashful librarian explained that she scheduled some time each week to write personal emails to those that had helped or impressed her that week. Simple and BRILLIANT. Anyone can do this. It struck me as an excellent way to lead from the middle, as most of the colleagues she inspired weren’t her direct reports, they were just folks she had noticed doing a good job.
2. What Do I Say?
Once you make up your mind to write these Thank Yous, what exactly should you say? I’ve found that the best things you can say or share are very timely and specific. So instead of saying “Thanks for being a great co-worker” say “I was so impressed how you handled that patron with complaints about our building renovation this morning. They approached the desk angry and they left totally satisfied with your answers. You are a patron whisperer!” Noticing those specific ways in which your colleagues are awesome will help them feel good about the work AND build skill when they are encouraged in the right directions.
3. Don’t Forget to Send Your Thanks Up (As Well as Down and Around).
In any top-down organization, its lonely at the top. As I approached middle management in my organization, I have increasingly realized that there are tough decisions to be made, and not nearly as many colleagues you can bounce ideas off of or even vent to once you get higher into administration. I have been fortunate to have numerous wonderful supervisors in my library experience, and I don’t think I let them know how much their mentorship and support have meant to me. Taking the time to thank them for a thoughtful decision or well handled issue may just inspire them to continue being a great leader for your team.