November 21, 2022 • De Pree Journal
Let’s talk about Ty. Not the person. Rather the shortest and quickest possible way to tell someone Thank you.
My Spanish linguistics professor taught me that, over time, people groups tend to shorten words in their language to make them quicker and easier to say and write. To me “over time” meant over centuries. After all, we were looking at the evolution of words from Latin and Ancient Greek to modern-day Spanish.
In my short lifetime, I’ve seen Thank you and Thanks reduced to Thx and Ty. We even have an emoji for saying Thank you. (FYI, according to Emojipedia, we can use the same emoji to indicate prayer. Which I do, all the time. Praying.)
I’m sure some brilliant person has studied all the reasons why we opt for two letters instead of eight, an emoji instead of words for noting our appreciation. Maybe it’s because we’re in a hurry, trying out the latest time-saving hack, or maybe downright lazy. At least we’re expressing our gratitude, right?
Saying Thank you is an excellent habit. But sometimes we can say Thx without much consideration of the other person and what they have done. Longtime Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree famously said, “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.”  He might argue that such a haphazard approach to gratitude is weep-worthy.
Saying Thank you is an excellent habit. But sometimes we can say Thx without much consideration of the other person and what they have done.
The way Max treated people sprang directly from his Christian faith. He believed and operated under the assumption that good leaders care deeply for the people they lead. Good leaders celebrate the gifts people bring to an organization; good leaders see people’s potential and help them realize it; and, they help their people feel included in the life and work of the organization.
Good leaders celebrate the gifts people bring to an organization; good leaders see people’s potential and help them realize it; and, they help their people feel included in the life and work of the organization.
Perhaps that’s why it was so grievous for him to think about “leaders who never say ‘Thank you.’”  Max knew what people wanted from their work, and one of those things was hearing someone tell them Thank you. Forgetting to say Thanks erodes the relationship between leader and follower. It disrespects a person’s gifts and contributions. Expressing heartfelt gratitude is an essential way to love the people we lead.
So, how can we be more intentional about giving our thanks to those we lead beyond a simple Thx? Here are four thoughtful and perhaps meaningful ways to express our gratitude.
Make a Phone Call
Phone calls seem to be going the way of the dodo. But maybe it’s their decline in frequency that makes a meaningful call all the more special. Not long ago, my boss called to say thanks for all of the work I had been doing the few weeks prior in order to get some of our new resources out into the world. Hearing her say the words aloud was so nice because of how much of our communication happens through text, email, and Asana. In five minutes, she made me feel seen, valued, affirmed, and cared for. Can you think of someone in your work world who deserves a five-minute gratitude call today?
In five minutes, she made me feel seen, valued, affirmed, and cared for.
Give a Small Gift
It’s not always easy to give gifts in the business world. HR policies and tax reporting can make it difficult, but gift-giving can be a simple and relatively inexpensive way to say Thanks. I was inspired by something a non-profit did on social media. They purchased a Starbucks gift card and posted the barcode so that the people they serve could buy a coffee. What if you did that for your team? Could you load a gift card and then send your team a screenshot of the barcode so they could treat themselves? (Pro-tip: Don’t include the bar code number and pin.) Or maybe you could get them a little corporate SWAG to show your appreciation and help them feel a sense of belonging in your organization.
Send a Hand-Written Note
I love receiving a hand-written note because I know it took time, thoughtfulness, and effort on the part of the sender. Growing up, I remember learning about Thank you note etiquette and composition. (If we’re a little rusty, the good people at Hallmark have a tutorial.) Early in my professional life, I learned the value of the hand-written thank you note. I vividly remember a senior pastor showing me and two other pastoral residents a big stack of notecards on his desk. He told us that he sent a note to individuals and families who made sizable financial gifts to the church. From that, I learned the value of high-touch, highly personal acts of appreciation. And we don’t need fancy, custom stationery to give thanks in this way.
Pay a Gratitude Visit
In his article, A Second Gratitude Experiment, Mark D. Roberts describes a gratitude visit—a practice taught by gratitude researcher Martin Seligman. A gratitude visit involves writing a short letter to someone you wish to thank and ultimately reading it in their presence. In a work context, you could adapt this. Maybe you could write a thoughtful Thank you note and then drop by someone’s office or schedule a Zoom call so that you can read it to them. You could use this practice with a colleague or boss. I think it could be especially meaningful if you did it for a mentor, advisor, or coach.
How about a little gratitude experiment of our own? This week, let’s pay attention to the number of times we tell someone Thank you at work. (In ninety minutes, I said it three times—once via text, once via email, and once via Asana.) Then, let’s slow down to express our gratitude in a way that’s more thoughtful and perhaps more meaningful to the individual receiving it. At the end of the week, let’s select one person and express our appreciation for them and their contribution in one of the ways outlined above. Let’s see what happens as we love those we lead by giving them more thanks.
Banner image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.
Dr. Meryl Herr is the Director of Research and Resources at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership where she designs and conducts research studies that add to the understanding of what helps marketplace leaders flourish. She also oversees the conversion of research findings into resources to support individuals in all seasons of life and leadership.
Click here to view Meryl’s profile.