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I'm a leadership junkie through and through and have my dad to thank for teaching me a key lesson in leadership early in life – namely that a good business leader knows it is the people – not the products or services – which make a company successful, and it is important to show your people just how much they are valued.
Many years ago, my dad and grandfather owned a leather tannery in Taunton, Mass. From an early age, I learned to not only love the smell of beautiful leather but also the challenges involved in building a successful, thriving company. I have sweet memories of our holiday family dinners when the men would excuse themselves after dinner to retire to the den to smoke cigars and talk about business while the women chatted about… well, I'm not sure what they discussed, since I was hiding in a corner in the den listening to the men talk shop.
One year, when I was six years old, my dad took me to work with him at the factory since I was home from school for the holidays. I was so proud to walk next to him as we made our way through the plant. I distinctly remember how he greeted each man by name, asking about their families or making some sort of remark that made it clear he knew and cared about them.
When I asked my dad later that evening how he could know so many people, he said, "Honey, it's not the leather that makes our company thrive, it's the people. If you are good to your people, they'll take care of you in return."
This time of year is special to me as I remember my dad's words and think about how I can show my gratitude to all those I work with. The simple gesture of annual holiday giving is important to me as well as to those on the receiving end. Here are some things to think about as you get ready to show your gratitude at this time of year.
1. Share gratitude, not just a gift.
The best gift is to tell someone why they are important to you and how much you appreciate them. Highlight their talents and tell them how they have excelled over the last year. Give examples so they will know what matters most to you and they will most likely repeat it over and over again.
2. Make it meaningful, not lame.
If you've been paying attention, you will know what kinds of things are important to the other person. Consider giving a gift that matters to them, not one that is easiest for you to purchase. One of my clients cares deeply about world hunger, so one year I made a donation to the Heifer Foundation, which helps to end hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock and training to struggling communities. A few years ago, one of my subcontractors had been working long hours without a break and was pretty burned out, so that year I gave her a weekend away at a snazzy inn with a spa.
3. Give the gift of quality time with you.
Our professional lives are typically overly busy with no time to spend quality time with the people who matter most to us, in spite of our good intentions. What if this year you took someone out to lunch, or dinner, or just scheduled a meeting to focus primarily on them, not work, and to ask questions like: How are you doing? What are you most proud of? What challenges are you currently facing? What professional goals do you have for yourself this upcoming year?
I have a client who complained how difficult it was to schedule time with her boss to talk about issues that were important to her. She reported that her one-on-one time often got shortened or cancelled. This week she accepted a new job at another company. She told me that one of the primary reasons she accepted it is because her new boss spent time during the interview process talking about her professional ideas, needs and desires. The personal interest he showed her felt like a breath of fresh air. I think her old boss could have dissuaded her from leaving if she had spent more quality time with her finding out what mattered most to her and developing a solid relationship. Make the time to get to know your key stakeholders before it's too late.
Although business leaders should care for their staff and employees and show their gratitude year round, the holiday season is a great opportunity to tell those we work with just how much we appreciate them and their talents. As leaders, we cannot share our appreciation enough, because it allows others to shine more often and become more fully engaged at work. The gift of gratitude is one that just keeps on giving.
Wendy Capland (@WendyCapland) CEO and founder of Vision Quest Consulting, is an internationally recognized leadership development exper and best-selling author of the book Your Next Bold Move for Women.