Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Thank-You Letter to Bosses

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How many times do you say thank you to your boss?

How do you find the words to say thank you?

Bosses are the subject of ire and complaint. We criticize them readily when we see things go awry; we bemoan when we have to work late; we are quick to get irritated when the meetings are difficult.

What about when the lights stay on? When the business keeps rolling in? When they lead well, effortlessly?

Much like the invisibility of infrastructure, most of us don't notice when things go well. They say that ubiquity is the highest compliment in product design: when no one says anything, you've achieved one of the upper echelons of success.

To become mainstream, normal, vernacular: that is ideal. When no one notices you're there, you have perhaps done an incredible job.

When giving thanks--or approval, or praise--however, it can't be followed by criticism. Praise followed by criticism is not praise; it's a buffer.

Generation Y often come across as entitled, as arrogant, as know-it-alls. I'm from this generation; I understand both sides of the issue. Older generations are surprised by our expectations and our want for approval and acceptance. We want to be told that we’re doing a good job, that we’re on the track, that our contributions matter. In short, we want to know that we’re important. Neurologists, psychologists, management theorists and even business experts agree—praise, positive reinforcement and even constructive feedback is good for the bottom line. It releases dopamine, it raises employee engagement, and in a 2010 study in Harvard Business Review of Best Buy employees, they found “ a 0.1 percent increase in employee engagement drove $100K in operating income to the bottom line of each store each year.”

So positive reinforcement and employee happiness is good for the bottom line. And for my general over-all happiness. I concur.

As I sit, contemplating this, thinking largely about myself and my need for approval and praise, I flip the table on its head again and try to think about it from another perspective. I wonder:

What about my boss? And my parents? And everyone that I keep insisting tell me I’m doing a good job?

Who tells my boss he or she is doing a good job?

Who tells my mom, my dad, and any of the other new parents out there, "Hey, You. You're doing pretty well. I know you're bewildered and confused, but you're actually doing quite a bit right. Don't worry about the lack of sleep. It'll get better."

When you get to be the head of a company, as many of my young (and not-so-young) entrepreneur friends are, or when you run your own shop--positive, direct feedback gets scarce. You get numbers and data and business metrics (sales is always a good sign, and overjoyed customer feedback is fun to hear), but what about the ever-deafening sound of, well, silence?

Personally, the more I go out on a limb and try new things, the fewer leaders there are in front of me. Each step I take in carving out a new path, I find there aren't as many people around me looking back, telling me what I’m doing is right. Or whether what I'm doing is worth doing at all. It can be a lonely, strange endeavor. And often the only sound you hear is criticism. Or the crickets chirping.

And when you’re well into running your own company smoothly, how many of your employees stop and think, man, I love my boss?

I think my bosses are doing a good job.

I think all of the wonderful, tireless, excellent management out there deserves a thank you.

Thank you for staying late after I finished my report and reviewing the entire document. Thank you for the extra hours spent correcting my typos and proofing the work.

Thank you for listening to me ramble on about my ideas, even though you'd already spent hours, days, even years meticulously researching the same questions, figuring it out as well.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, to tell me about when you were twenty-four, what it was like growing up.

Thank you for biting your lip when I did my first bad presentation, and for managing the relationships with our clients when I didn't quite get the report document right. Thank you for saving the day and looking like the bad guy instead of placing the blame all on me. I knew that I had erred, but it still made you look bad. Thank you for being level-headed and cool. Thank you for your patience.

Thank you for being interested in what I want to do, and for encouraging me to explore new ideas.

I just want you to know: you’re doing really well as a boss. I can’t imagine organizing 20, 30, 50 people, let alone organizing just myself and my interns. I can barely keep track of my own to-do list, let alone figure out how to influence an entire team. To tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure how you do it.

Thank you for building a company, over time, that's lasted as long as it has, and for building something resilient and different.

Thank you for responding to my emails, when I send perhaps a few too many.

Thank you for recommending me as a speaker, even though I think I’m not even close to ready; thank you for supporting my abilities and believing in me.

Thank you for paying me and for figuring out how to bring money into the company.

Thank you for staying silent in the line between yes and no, and saying “maybe” more often than not each time I pitched an idea, and for waiting, not judging, when I offered to try something new. Thank you for reviewing my bad ideas and giving feedback to my good ones.

Thank you for all the times you traveled on the weekends, for the meetings that I don’t see, for the decisions that keep you up at night. Thank you for keeping our company afloat during the hard times, and for putting more money into my retirement account when I wasn’t watching or paying attention.

You are doing great.

Thank you.

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