The Greatest Gift You Can Give
As I was responding to an email from my kiddo’s teacher recently, I reflected on how incredibly fortunate we are to have such a talented, caring, and invested woman educating our son this year. “Thank you for investing yourself in my son.” I wrote back to her. “It matters. It’s made a difference to him. He’s thriving this year and I’m grateful.”
Then I started thinking about the hundreds of men and women I’ve met over the years in my leadership sessions, who would benefit from hearing the same thing. To know that they matter. That they’ve made a difference. Of course they do everything they can to pretend they don’t need it (because they’re the leaders and the emerging leaders of the world – for some reason they think they’re impervious to this human need that we all share), but it’s there. The hunger to be seen and valued.
You know how there are moments in your life that stand out in your mind no matter how much time has passed? I will never forget how I felt in a meeting with a senior leader 15 years ago. I felt like a commodity.
I was running my events company in Seattle, and after months of intense preparation, giving it everything I had, I knocked out a killer company meeting for my client and the entire organization was talking about it. What had historically been a boring information-download had been transformed. People had streamed out of the meeting buzzing with excitement. They were inspired by what the company was about, energized by what they were doing, and proud to be a part of such a cool organization. We had over-achieved on our goals and it was an amazing experience.
After the meeting, we went back to the office and I met with the VP of Communications – my work had fallen under her charge. We sat down and she immediately started talking about what needed to be done in preparation for the next meeting, four months away.
I sat there and stared at her, astonished by how swiftly we were moving on, without pausing to acknowledge what we had accomplished. My brain just wasn’t ready to make that shift. “So how did you feel the meeting went today?” I asked.
“Good. Now about…”
I honestly didn’t hear what she said next, amidst the white-noise in my mind, and it must have shown by the look on my face.
“Kimberly, what’s the matter?” she asked, impatiently.
“Ummm… Well it just feels like something’s missing.”
“Missing? What’s missing?”
“I feel like the meeting was really great. It may be a strange thing to say,” I said sheepishly, “but I guess I just expected to hear that you were happy or….”
“Kimberly, if you’re looking to hear ‘thank you’, your ‘thank you’ is your paycheck. Maybe next time we’ll just say thank you instead of paying you.”
I felt like I had been slapped in the face. I knew right then, that that arrangement wasn’t going to work for me.
The next day I let them know that I would complete everything I was currently doing, would help them transition to finding another company to work with, but I would no longer be available to take on additional projects.
Two hours later, the VP of Communications followed me out to the parking lot with a big bouquet of flowers and an apology note.
Here’s what I know to be true, nobody gives their best for a paycheck exchange.
I didn’t need flowers or fanfare, I just needed to know that if I was willing to invest my whole self into something, that it mattered.
We like to pretend that business is just business and niceties like “thank you” don’t matter. But what differentiates great companies that attract and keep extraordinary talent willing to give it their all – to put their heart and soul into what they do – is that they recognize the human investment being made. Heart and soul cannot be commoditized.
As the holidays are upon us, I encourage all of us to really see and acknowledge all that others are doing to make our lives and organizations better. As you notice the amazing things that are going on – the days people are coming in early or leaving late to finish big projects, the extra care and attention people bring to their work, don’t let it go unnoticed. Tell them. I see you.
I see what you’re doing and how it’s making a difference. Thank you.
Thank you, to your direct reports. Thank you, to your boss. Thank you to your contractors. Thank you, to your colleagues. Thank you, to your clients. Thank you to your vendors. Thank you, to your family. Thank you, to your kid’s teacher. Thank you.
Because without the Thank you, the people who really care the most about giving their best, will find someplace else to invest themselves. (Or maybe they’ll stick around and it will stop being to your benefit).
People need to know that they’re seen. That they matter. That is the greatest gift we can give each other.
And it’s the gift that will pay dividends for years to come.
©OnStage Leadership, 2014
If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share. It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too. My sincere thanks. Kimberly