A Leadership Lesson from Meister Eckhart
If the only prayer you say in your life is “Thank You” that would suffice. - Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)
The problem with a sure fire way for beating the stock market is that you have to keep it a secret. As soon as everybody starts doing it, it no longer works. I didn’t invent it, and my mother initially had to beat me over the head to get me to do it, but I eventually mastered an easy, simple, ridiculously cheap, way to be successful in business. My mother called it a “bread and butter note” but it is more colloquially known as a handwritten thank you note.
For as long as I can remember I have kept a stack of cards on my desk, and I am hard pressed to think of anything that has burnished my brand more than sending hand written thank you notes. Nothing cuts through the clutter and informational overload than a note arriving through the mail and the cost/benefit ratio is breathtaking. Email, E-Cards, Social Media, and pre-printed cards are easily discounted or ignored but a hand written note never is.
We are constantly reminded that it is not enough in today’s highly competitive marketplace to merely satisfy customers. Instead we must delight customers, and delighting people is exactly what getting a hand written note invariably does.
For many years I’ve worked with college students on a volunteer basis around issues of spirituality and personal growth, but whenever I meet a professor or administrator on campus the only thing I hear is, “My god, you’re the guy who gets students to send thank you notes!” Several years ago I read the obituary of a highly successful executive in the Wall Street Journal. When asked for the secret to his success a colleague replied, “He was the kind of person who sent thank you notes for thank you notes.” An eternal optimist, I think there are relatively few examples of bad people doing bad things. Instead good people do bad things through being “thoughtless,” and there is nothing more “thoughtful” than a thank you note.
The universal complaint surrounding writings on business is that they are not practical enough. So here is some eminently practical advice.
1) Get some thank you notes, stamps, and a comfortable pen. Mine are embossed with the Eckhart quote above but blanks will do.
2) Give them a prominent place close at hand. Stick a note on your computer to remind you.
3) Look for excuses to send them rather than excuses not to.
4) Bang ‘em out as soon as they occur to you. They take all of about three minutes so don’t let them pile up.
5) Set a goal to send out at least one a day and don’t forget to send another to your recipient’s boss. If you can’t think of enough people to thank, refer back to step (3) and engage in what we referred to in the 1960s as “an agonizing reappraisal.”
6) Drop them in the mail. There is something about a cancelled stamp that even beats hand delivery.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not a choice but a habit.” Habits are hard to form and even harder to break, but I guarantee that the reaction you get from your notes will make this one easy. It may start as a chore but it will quickly become pure joy. And the unintended consequence of this simple discipline will make you a more thoughtful person in every area of your life. And if you keep working at it you will eventually become a grateful person and grateful people are the happiest and most productive.
Gratitude is the weakest of all human emotions, but its rarity is also what makes it so special. I realize that I am taking a grave risk by sharing such a proprietary secret concerning such a disruptive technology in a public forum. If everyone starts sending hand written thank you notes they will inevitably lose their magic. But since the essence of my service and selflessness creed is that the more we give the more we receive I don’t really have a choice. Besides, human nature being what it is, the window of opportunity for me and those of you who take my advice will probably stay open for a while yet…