Leading with Trust

10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Your Employees

Since this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., I thought I’d re-share one of my most popular posts about how to build trust through the power of telling people “thank you.” Saying “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, here are ten amazingly simple ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In classic David Letterman, Late Night style…10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Employees:

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one amazingly simple way to thank employees is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

A Better Boss or a Pay Raise? What Would YOUR Employees Choose?

Ask yourself this question: If I gave my employees a choice between receiving a pay raise or me becoming a better boss, which would they choose?

Chances are you’d probably say your employees would choose a pay raise, right? I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want more money? Taking a few liberties with the classic song Money by Barrett Strong, your employees are probably saying “Your leadership gives me such a thrill, but your leadership don’t pay my bills, I need money!”

Getting a pay raise would be an immediately tangible reward that everyone could literally take to the bank. Besides, it’s not like you need any dramatic improvement as a boss, right? Sure, you may not be the greatest leader in the world, but there’s a whole lot of bosses plenty worse than you. Your people would definitely choose a pay raise, you say.

Well, you’d be wrong. One study showed that 65% of Americans would choose a better boss over a pay raise. How do you like them apples?

In many of our training courses we do a “best boss” exercise. We ask participants to share the characteristics of the person who was their best boss, and as you can see from the list below, many of these traits are ones you can develop and master with just a bit of effort and focus.

My best boss…

  • Was trustworthy—Often mentioned as the foundation of what makes a best boss, being trustworthy is paramount to being an effective leader. Research has shown that employees who have high levels of trust in their boss are more productive, engaged, innovative, creative, and contribute more to the organization’s bottom-line. Click here to learn more about how to build trust as a leader.
  • Believed in me—Best bosses believe in the capabilities and potential of their people. Through their words and actions they communicate a sincere faith in their employees that builds the confidence of their team members to go above and beyond expectations.
  • Showed respect—No one likes to be talked down to or treated as “less than.” Best bosses recognize the inherent worth each person possesses and they seek to build people up, not tear them down.
  • Listened to me—Being a good listener is one of the most powerful, yet underrated leadership skills. Good listeners don’t interrupt, ask clarifying questions, summarize what they’ve heard, probe for deeper understanding, and also pay attention to what’s not being said in the conversation. Check out The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening for more tips.
  • Helped me grow—People want leaders who are invested in helping them grow in their jobs and careers. Best bosses understand that leadership is not about them; it’s about the people they serve. As such, they are committed to helping their team members grow in their careers, even if that means the employee ultimately leaves the team or organization for better opportunities.
  • Had my back—Participants in our classes often say their best boss was always in their corner, or had their back. There are times in organizational life where the boss needs to step up and defend the needs or interests of his/her team. Supporting your employees doesn’t mean blindly defending them regardless of the circumstances, but it does mean you always have their best interests at heart and are committed to putting that belief into practice.
  • Gave feedback in a way I could hear it—I’ve learned in my career that people really do want, and deserve, honest feedback about their performance. The trick is to deliver feedback in a way the person on the receiving end can hear it without becoming defensive, internalize it, and take positive action moving forward. Here is a way to give feedback that builds trust in a relationship.
  • Cared about me as a person—It’s a cliché but it’s true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent boss around, but if your people don’t feel you truly care about them as humans, then they will withhold their trust and commitment from you.
  • Adjusted their leadership style to my needs—The best bosses know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Each team member can be at different development levels in their goals and tasks, so the leader needs to adjust his/her leadership style to meet the needs of the employee. Managers need to learn to become situational leaders.
  • Gave me autonomy—No one likes to be micro-managed. Helicoptering over your employees and telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, creates a sense of learned helplessness. It erodes the morale and motivation of employees and leads to them developing a “quit but stay” mentality. Best bosses make sure their team members have been given the proper training and have the best resources and tools needed to do their jobs. Then the manager steps out of the way and lets their team do their thing, while providing any needed support and direction along the way.

Unfortunately, too many leaders are unwilling to admit they could use a bit of improvement, and too many organizations tolerate poor managerial performance (free whitepaper: 7 Ways Poor Managers Are Costing Your Company Money). But as you can see from this list, becoming a best boss isn’t rocket science. It’s within the grasp of any leader who is willing to put in a bit of work to improve his/her craft.

5 Tips for Handling Delicate Conversations

coffee conversationOne of the certainties of managerial life is there will be occasions where you need to have a delicate conversation with someone. No matter if it’s an employee, colleague, or vendor, the thought of having a potentially challenging conversation with someone causes fear and hesitation. And of course this isn’t just an issue in the workplace; the same dynamic happens in our personal relationships as well.

I had a delicate conversation with my 21 year-old son last week, and frankly, I could have handled it better. If I had practiced what I’m preaching here, I’m pretty sure the discussion would have been more fruitful. Here’s the tips I should have followed more closely:

1. Clarify your motive and desired outcome for the conversation—In my case, I had been stewing over a discussion my son and I had a few weeks earlier. In that prior conversation, I felt my son had neglected to mention some important facts that I later discovered on my own. I felt he had been less that truthful with me and my motive was to let him know how I felt so I could get the weight off my chest. I thought I was clear on the motive, but looking back I see it was a pretty selfish one. A better motive would have been to learn more about why my son shared what he did rather than accuse him of purposefully omitting facts. I also wasn’t clear on my desired outcome. Was I looking for an apology? Did I want him to acknowledge he made a mistake? Since I wasn’t fully clear on the outcome, it left the conversation in a ragged state when we finished.

2. Pick the right time and place—This one is hard for me because I don’t like to leave things unsettled. I’d rather address an issue quickly and get it resolved, rather than wait for things to settle down and perhaps sort themselves out naturally. When planning for a delicate conversation, choose a location that will create a comfortable and safe environment for the meeting. Choose a time of day when the other party will be at their best, and havethe right kind of open energy that will allow them to hear what you’re saying.

3. Watch your tone—Studies have shown that just 7% of communication is the actual words we speak. That leaves 93% of communication happening through tone and body language. The tone of your voice will literally set the tone for the conversation. Use a tone that is warm, supportive, inquisitive, and non-judgmental. Raising your voice, having a sharp tongue, or using defensive or dismissive body language (e.g., crossing your arms, rolling your eyes) will doom your conversation for failure.

The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations

4. Invite dialogue—Too often our delicate conversations turn into monologues. That’s because we feel more comfortable if we’re in control of the discussion. We can be afraid of what the other person may say or how she will steer the conversation, so we rattle on at the mouth until we’ve said our peace. The best way to handle a delicate conversation is to invite dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to express her thoughts and share openly. This builds a climate of trust and safety which facilitates more open and honest communication.

5. Express support and empathy—The delicate conversation with my son was a textbook example of what not to do. If you recall, in a prior conversation with my son I was upset he didn’t share certain details with me that I thought were relevant. After he explained why he omitted those facts, I relied upon my trust-building and leadership expertise and responded, “If you believe that, then you’re lying to yourself!” I don’t think I’ll be winning Dad of the Year award anytime soon. I missed my opportunity to empathize with him and express support for his point of view. Instead, I selfishly used the opening to blast him with a critical comment that I had been harboring for weeks. Even if your point of view is correct, a delicate conversation will go off the rails if you shut the other person down by not expressing empathy and support.

Conversation is the vehicle by which we build trust, lead others, and develop relationships. The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations, so it’s important we develop effective communication skills. When it comes to discussing delicate topics, it’s important to be clear on our motives, choose the right time and place, watch our tone, invite dialogue, and express support and empathy.

4 Strategies for Leading in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is scary. The unknown is scary. Leaders will always face uncertainty and the future will always be unknown.

A company team I worked with recently has some pretty big anticipated hurdles coming up in about a year. The height of the hurdles is not clear, nor if there will be ground to land on when they leap over. They’re struggling not to fret. They’re struggling not to worry.

Needless to say, this impacts focus, productivity and morale.

The management team wanted to know – in the face of these uncertain times, how can we support our teams?

Here are four of the recommendations I gave them. These can work in nearly every situation:

  1. Your team is a reflection of you – as the leader you can’t be Chicken Little. Emotions are contagious. If you’re freaking out, revving up, snowballing catastrophe, so will your team. Guaranteed. Watch your language – what are you saying about the future? You should acknowledge the fear, you just don’t want to feed it. Acknowledging the fear lets your team know that you “get it” – you’re not clueless or in denial. This is part of sharing your humanity as a leader. Stay positive, not pessimistic or Pollyanna. If you need to unabashedly “release” your own worries, share your concerns with a comforting friend outside of your workplace.
  2. Remember: What you and your team are up to in the world TODAY is bigger than this fear. You can’t let the fear become a scapegoat for not getting the work done. There is work to be done today. You have clients who need you to show up 100% today. Focus on the top three strategic action items your team can accomplish this week towards your quarterly goals. Celebrate completion. In other words, heed the words of Corrie ten Boom, whose family helped many Jewish people escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strengths.”
  3. What actually is known and unknown? Defining these two in simple high-level bullets can be surprisingly empowering.

What’s known?

  • The present
  • We’re all in this together
  • It’s not our first rodeo
  • There’s work to do now
  • We’re resilient and resourceful
  • We’ll figure out when the time comes
  • Our commitment and convictions
  • What’s next

What’s unknown?

  • The future
  • What’s going to happen
  • The weather two weeks from now

I have a roofing company client. About 90% of its revenue is determined by Mother Nature. If there’s a storm, it makes money. If there isn’t, it doesn’t. That’s uncertainty; yet the company is not paralyzed by the uncertainty of Mother Nature.

  1. Focus on what you can control. You can always control your response, attitude, behavior, words and actions. You can always choose to be proactive rather than paralyzed. In times of uncertainty, step up ownership of your authority. When the fog is thick, they want the leader to lead.

Don’t let uncertainty undermine you or your team’s efforts. Stay on course. Focus and finish on what needs to be accomplished now.

Acknowledge the fear, but don’t feed it.

Lastly, be courageous and confident in your convictions.


Guest Post by Kris Boesch, author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. Kris is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures.

These 3 Actions Will Make You Everyone’s Favorite Boss

I remember the rude awakening my oldest son received when he moved into a management position with a national pizza chain. He learned what it was like to carry a greater level of responsibility, deal with unreliable employees, and train new team members. One morning he walked into the kitchen, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, and vented to me about having to pull the closing shift the previous night for another store whose manager quit on the spot. To top it off, he had to turn around that same morning to open up his own store. Welcome to management, kid.

Being a good manager isn’t easy. It can seem like a million things compete for your attention and some days it feels as though you aren’t up for the task. Don’t worry, we all feel that way sometimes. The good news is there are some easy, straight-forward ways to become the manager that everyone loves.

Show Empathy — People love to work for managers who value and appreciate them as individuals, and not just as faceless workers showing up to do a job. Being empathetic means putting yourself in other people’s shoes and looking at life from their vantage point. You do this by asking open-ended questions about how they’re feeling and listening to their responses (yes, that means you actually have to have a conversation). You can also demonstrate empathy by being understanding when your employees experience difficult circumstances. Whether it’s taking time off work to deal with a sick child or elderly parent, or just listening to them vent a little bit about their rough day at work, people appreciate their boss responding with an attitude of “how can I help?” rather than “keep your personal problems at home.” You can be the most knowledgeable, technically proficient boss in the world, but if you don’t give your people a little bit of your heart they won’t you give you theirs.

Have Their Back — Great managers assume best intentions about their team members. They operate on the assumption that everyone is trying their best and no one is intentionally trying to make a mistake. If a mistake happens, use the occasion as a learning opportunity to help your team member grow. Don’t play the blame game or throw your team member under the bus for goofing up. Another way to have the back of your employees is to advocate for their needs. Being a manager means sometimes having to defend your people from unreasonable expectations or demands from other people or parts of the organization. It’s a challenge to strike the right balance between protecting your people and advocating for their needs versus doing what’s best for the organization, even if it has a negative impact on your team. But your people will love you and be supportive of your leadership if they consistently see you stick up for them when appropriate.

Make Work Fun — We spend too much of our lives at work to have it be drudgery or uninspiring. Managers can be tremendously influential in making work a little bit more fun and it doesn’t take much planning or effort to pull it off. You’d be amazed at how much mileage you can get from doing simple things like calling an afternoon break and serving popsicles, letting people go home from work 30 minutes early on a Friday afternoon, having a potluck lunch, or creating fun awards or rituals for your team. A few managers on my team recently created a humorous award involving the recipient wearing a unicorn-themed ski cap. Unicorns are an inside joke for the team and wearing the cap is slightly embarrassing, but everyone secretly wants to win the award because it’s positive recognition of their work. Managers who make the workplace a fun and rewarding place to be will develop loyal and hard-working team members.

Management is a tough gig but you can make it easier by following a few commonsense principles. Developing empathy in your relationships, standing up for your people when needed, and making work fun will put you on track toward becoming everyone’s favorite boss.

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