Leadership Legacy

The Power of a Simple Thank You

I will always remember the time I said ‘thank you’ to someone who had never been thanked at work.

Photo by Roger Carr, posted on Flikr.com

Over the years, I have learned a lot of leadership lessons. Many times, I have learned by making mistakes and realizing what not to do. I want to share an example of when I learned an important lesson by doing the right thing even though it took a couple of years for the magnitude of my actions to become clear to me.

In the spring of 2000, I was sitting at my desk at work. A young man I had never seen before showed up at the doorway to my cubicle and asked, “Are you Monica Ojendyk?”

“Yes…” I replied, looking at him curiously.

“I’m Sam Murphy*. You probably don’t remember me,” he said.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t. Have we met before?”, I said, feeling a little foolish and slightly embarrassed — did I forget meeting Sam at another time?

“Not face-to-face — I worked here about 2 years ago in the Support* team. You called our team because of an issue with the client you were working with. I helped you resolve the issue. We were on the phone for several hours on a Sunday evening trying to figure it out.”, he said.

“OH!” I replied. “I do remember that! It was a long time ago. What brings you here today?”

“I left the company a few months after we worked on that issue, and I went to work for a customer. I am here this week attending system training. We are on a break and I asked the trainer if you still worked here. I wanted to meet you in person.”

“Ok,” I replied, still wondering why Sam had sought me out. “It’s nice to meet you in person.”

Sam continued, “I came to find you because you made an impact on me while I was here at the company. A few days after we worked together on the client’s issue, I received a thank you note from you in interoffice mail. Do you remember sending it to me?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking that this was often something I did after getting assistance from one of our teams.

“Well,” Sam said, “I held on to that note. I still have it. Because it was the only time that anyone ever told me ‘thank you’ while I worked here. And when I knew I was coming back to this office where you worked, I wanted to meet you to let you know that it meant a lot to me. “

I was astonished. I would never have thought that a quick note that I sent two years ago would resonate so deeply with someone that they would remember it, and it would even compel that person to make a special effort to let me know what it meant.

After I processed my initial shock, I said to Sam, “I’m so sorry that was the case. I hope you are doing well now?”

Sam said, “Yes, I am. I love my new role and training is going well. Maybe we’ll get a chance to work together again in the future.”

We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes and Sam eventually went back to training. I sat at my desk and processed the implications of what Sam had said. First, I was sad about Sam’s experience and I wondered how many other people felt the same way — that no one appreciated what they did at work? Secondly, I thought about how little time I had invested in writing and sending that note and how great of an impact it had on Sam. It probably took me 10 minutes or less.

It is not an epiphany to know that saying ‘thank you’ is the right thing to do. Here in the South, it is the proper thing to do, along with saying ‘please’ and ‘yes Ma’am’ and ‘yes Sir’ and holding doors open for people walking in behind us. Giving people the gift of knowing the positive impact their actions have on us — how they have helped us, how they have made us feel or even how they saved the day on our behalf, can have a long-term impact, even for years afterwards.

The lesson I took away from my interaction with Sam is to practice being intentional with saying ‘thank you’ to those around me. I try to look for opportunities to say thank you and ensure I let people I encounter know I appreciate their work or their efforts, even it if was for ‘just doing their job’.

It has been nearly 20 years since my conversation with Sam and the leadership lesson he taught me that day. Because of his gift of saying ‘thanks’ to me, I will always remember the time I said ‘thank you’ to someone who had never been thanked at work.

  • Names of persons and departments have been changed for anonymity.

Thanks for reading! Read more of my Corporate Adulting Blog series at https://monicaojendyk.medium.com/.

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Monica Ojendyk

Monica Ojendyk

Seasoned executive leader, great cook, mom and wife. Farmer’s daughter, head cheerleader and avid reader. Superpower: Unsolicited Advice and Shopping.