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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17 Responses to A Thank-You Letter to Bosses

  1. I have been running companies, private and public, for a third of a century and have NEVER received a thank you from anyone. Ever.

    Not feeling sorry for myself, really. Just stating the obvious.

    But in those quiet moments when I am alone with my thoughts maybe with a fire, a glass of wine and a Lab — I know if I did well and that is really the only opinion I value.

    Still, it would be nice from time to time to get a thank you.

    Nice topic and well written. THANK YOU!

    • MC says:

      I write anonymous letters of thanks to my bosses , maybe the idea just never occurred to your employees or most likely they fear it will be interpreted as *ss kissing – go with your gut if you think your doing great you probably are – best way to lead sometimes is to get out of the way and hire people you trust and who can function without you. MC

  2. Kelly says:

    Beautifully put. An excellent reminder. Thank you.

  3. T says:

    It must be nice to work in such a supportive environment.

  4. Aatash says:

    Wow, definitely a great perspective. :)

  5. Ralph says:

    Sarah,
    Wow! That was beautiful. So much to say about this topic. I am in a bit of an interesting, albeit not unique, position. I am a boss (technically). I have a team of 35 hard working individuals that I am responsible for, but, I also….have a boss. The interesting part of it is that our firm is managed in a very entrepreneurial manner or at least it feels that way to me. I have a ton of autonomy to manage the client and team as I see fit. Anyway, not the point.

    I completely agree with the idea of ubiquity. If it’s smooth and successful no one notices. Stuff happens and happens well. That is a good feeling. To me praise in this environment is giving opportunity and ability to seek improvement and to look for innovation. It’s a place for people with a mindset toward growth. Yes, everyone likes to be told they do a good job but the ideas that resonated most with me from your post were the ones where you were challnged to make yourself better. Those, to me, are the best compliments a boss can give.

    Good leaders give of themselves; they pay it forward. The praise they get is in making their people happy and their clients happy.

    It’s interesting that you point out that as you venture down the path of leadership (the more you go out on a limb….) the less you feel you have opportunity for mentorship. First off, are you doing something to have someone tell you it’s right or are you doing it because it feels right, for you? Big difference there. And, a big AND, there are others out there in the same position as you. Find them and share your experiences. They will be your sounding board or feedback loop.

    Thanks for writing this incredibly insightful post. I would live to hear your comments on some of these thoughts. Have a fab day!

  6. Monique says:

    What a great article, Sarah! Thank you!

    I’m currently in a situation where one part of my company sent me to another, and recommended me, but we are running into some trouble negotiating a second contract. My “old” boss has been amazingly supportive and has sung my praises, and it’s created an opportunity for me to say, “Hey, old boss, thank you.” By which I mean… thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to work at another part of our company, and thank you even more for believing I’m worth what I’m asking for, for telling me that, and telling the other department that, even if they don’t agree. Thank you for having my back.”

    Like you say, it’s easy to take a good boss for granted, to get caught up in daily complaints about minor details. But it’s good to give pause and realise how lucky we are to have a good boss, too.

    …And it’s giving me pause to think about whether I want to continue working for the Other Department, but that’s a tale for another time.

    Thanks for the blog – I love it!

  7. [...] A Thank-You Letter to Bosses from It Starts with Making Things Happen, asks readers, “How often do you thank your boss?” Thank them for what, you may ask? How about for putting so much effort into your company to keep it afloat during these tough economic times. How about continuing to give you a paycheck or two every month so you can keep your lights on. As this post reminds us, it’s often easy to be critical of your boss for all the things that aren’t going so well. How often do you take time to appreciate all that he or she does for you, your financial situation and your career? [...]

  8. Mark says:

    So insightful…

    It’s difficult to put into words how little I tend to think of expressing my thanks for my boss(es).

    My company is a pretty close knit group (less than ten people in my division), so we’re constantly working together. But it’s those times that I finish up a report on a Friday and it needs to be out on Monday morning – so they review it over the weekend at home, or when they take time out of their weekend to fabricate a makeshift sampling device at home depot… those are the times that I realize how important they are.

    They even refuse to let me pay for beers when we hit up the bar after work… And I continue to take for granted almost everything they do.

    This is a great wake up call. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to explore more of your site.

  9. I actually thinking of thanking my old boss for firing me 2.5 years ago. Since then, I’ve traveled the world, started a blog, met load of great people and had all sorts of awesome adventures. But I don’t think I’ll thank him because I doubt he’d read it the right way ;)

  10. [...] on a more uplifting note, Sarah at It Starts With takes the bold step of suggesting you should thank your boss.  Well [...]

  11. Erica says:

    Great article. I lost a job in which I thought would be the company I would retire from and unfortunately the job market has been horrible so finding a job has been close to immpossible. Then my sister was promoted within her company and a part time postition came available and she spoke with her boss and he gave me a job. After 6 weeks of working there, I thought it would only be appropriate that I write him a Thank You note. I just gave it to him yesterday so I hope that he see’s that not only has it helped me financially, but emotionally as well. I know it’s only a part-time job but just being back out there again has given me a reason to feel good about myself again. I explained all of that in the note as well. We all should be grateful for our bosses and appreciate them more.

  12. Alicia says:

    I came across this article in a google search. I wanted to say thank you to my boss and didn’t know where to start. I literally had is name only at the top of my card. What you wrote is exactly what I was thankful for but didn’t know how to say it. Well done! and Thanks!

    Alicia

  13. farhad says:

    Thank you for being a great inspiration to us. We are grateful for all that you have done for us.

  14. [...] Thank You Letter To Bosses [...]

  15. [...] Practice unnecessary kindess. Engage in daily gratitude rituals to re-wire your brain. Write thank you letters to your bosses. Raise money for charity. Tell the people you love that you love them. (I love you, [...]

  16. Claire Drolet says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful article! I have an amazing boss who has taught me so much and has been so kind, even in just the few months that we’ve known each other. He’s done great things for our company and has helped me grow far beyond anything I thought I could be or do. I really respect the man and wanted to thank him for all that he is. This year as a Thanksgiving gift he wanted all the employees to receive a letter from him and a gift card. It struck me that he isn’t getting a thank you note (that I know of) from anyone. I found your article and it gave me inspiration on how to write him a heartfelt letter.