For well over a decade my wife Andrea and I owned and operated two fine dining restaurants and a ¼ acre urban culinary farm in New Jersey in the town where we lived. We built both restaurants and the farm from scratch (with a tremendous amount of help from Andreas’ parents along the way—thanks Skip & Kathy!), and as anyone who has owned and operated restaurants can attest, it is all-consuming. Andrea was there virtually 24/7, and since I also had my “day job” as an Operations & Sales Executive in the Paper/Packaging industry, I was there many nights and every weekend. It was an exhausting run and we have so many strange and fantastical stories about employees and customers we often tell friends and family over a glass of wine, but it could be a tremendously rewarding business as well.
One of the reasons it was so fulfilling is that you got to participate in the formative years of the lives of so many young people who came through our ranks as employees. This was a first job for many of these kids, and they came to us with no training and little understanding of the restaurant business, but we loved their positive attitudes and smiling faces. Not every young person is cut out for a service job, so lots of kids flamed out after a few weeks or months. But there were times we’d strike proverbial “gold” with a hire, and it was so rewarding to watch them grow and flourish as they moved though their school years and launch on their path in life. We always hoped we were a part of their growth and development.
We’ve been away from the businesses for 18 months now as we sold the restaurants in mid-2017, but just this morning my wife got an unexpected note from one of our very favorite young employees. It read in part:
“I wanted to let you know that I’m graduating from Johnson & Wales this year with a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts. I’ve been exploring sites for my senior level internship and have been accepted as an intern at Le-Bernardin in NYC. I will be starting there this March.
As soon as I got the word you were the first person who came to mind, after my mother and father of course.
I really cannot thank you enough for everything that you have done for me. You gave me my first job ever, watched me grow, taught me so much, and took me under your wing. I enjoyed coming to work for you and Jim every day. To be honest learning the restaurant business at such a young age and having my first real job at ATH really pushed me in the direction towards my studies and career. I can barely put the words together to thank you.
I wanted to make sure you know how important you were to me growing up, are still very important to me now, as well as the restaurants you and Jim built together. Thank you so much for everything.
I hope all is well with yourself, Jim, and the family.”
To say that this note made our day would be an understatement. We really loved this young man—and felt truly lucky to have him work for us. Both my wife and I shed a few tears reading and re-reading this note, and we are very gratified to have played a role in his young life. We honestly just feel great—truly energized by this unexpected little gift of a thank you note.
This thank you note “gift” is something people in every walk of life know they should be sending more often, and each of us loves to receive these notes. This is even more true for those in leadership positions…the power of saying thanks is greater than most any power you think you possess, and certainly more meaningful to your employees and teammates than more traditional rewards and incentives. Yet many leaders don’t engage much in this thankful behavior, perhaps believing it will soften their image or lessen their ability to manage by intimidation. What a missed opportunity!
But the wonder of recognizing this thankfulness deficiency in your leadership style is just how easy this is to correct—and how quickly you can integrate a bit of “thank you” into your daily/weekly routine. Get a pack of small thank you note cards and put it on your calendar once a week to spend 20 minutes writing a few very short notes to employees/customers/colleagues thanking them in some real and personal way. And also pick one day per week where you’re out on the plant floor, warehouse, office, etc., or at “the Gemba” as we’ve spoken of before, and make sure to thank your teammates for wearing their safety gear, or keeping their work area clean, or for some action they’ve taken recently for which you’re grateful. Those around you will immediately start to notice a change in your style, and as long as you’re authentic in your thanksgiving, you will have a new, more effective leadership standing.
These two simple tasks will soon become habit and will spark more self-awareness about those around you doing tasks and deeds worthy of notice. You won’t have to “schedule” thank you’s into your routine as they will simply be part of who you are as a person and a leader. And you might also get the ultimate surprise in the form of a thank you note from one of your current or former employees.
Model, hire, train, reward, and recognize this thankfulness behavior in others, and make this part of your daily and weekly management routine. You’ll get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees as a result, and your team will have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.
Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.
Photo: J. Carbine