A little ‘thank you’ goes a long way

When I went for the interview for my deputy headteacher role back in 2014, something that was said by the HLTA who was ferrying the candidates around stuck in my mind.

She was telling me about some of the changes that had been made by the new co-headteachers who had recently taken over the leadership of the school. The HLTA had been at the school for years so had seen leaders come and go, but the latest two were different she said. They always showed their appreciation for the things you did. So if you did an extra duty, or stayed a bit later than usual, they went out of their way to say thank you. Sometimes sending a text message if they weren’t able to say thank you in person. As time went on I realised the co-headteachers displayed other gestures of appreciation, such as buying every member of staff a little gift at Christmas, Easter and at the end of the academic year. At the time they were leading two primary schools so it was easy to manage. The two retitled Executive Headteachers, now lead two primary schools and an all-through school and have a total of 200 plus staff, but they still give a little gift to everyone to say thank you. (for those wondering, the cost is shared between the Exec Heads, Heads of school and Principal).

Ever since that interview day and now as a headteacher, I’ve held on to the importance of leaders showing gratitude towards their staff; because I realised when I listened to the HLTA speak, how much the appreciation shown by the co-headteachers meant to her.

There have been a wealth of studies carried out on the impact the act of gratitude can have on a person’s emotional and physiological wellbeing. From improved sleep patterns to increased self-esteem, hearing the words ‘thank you’ can make a big difference to the way someone behaves in the work place.

Of course, there is a school of thought which says someone shouldn’t do something because they’re going to get thanked for it and I agree. But most people don’t do things because of the thanks they will receive; they do it because they know the difference it will make. Most realise that taking that extra duty, helping with an after school club in someone’s absence, or offering to help make costumes for the end of year production means a burden is lifted from someone else and helps the school run with less hitches. Surely for those reasons alone, as a leader you should be able to say thank you.

Showing your gratitude for the small things also makes it more likely that staff to want to help when you have a bigger favour to ask. If Mr X was asked to cover a class last week and it was a tough class and no-one bothered to say thank you, it’s highly unlikely he’s going to want to do it again. Especially if covering the class also meant that he ended up having to cut his lunch break short and then go straight into a two hour meeting. But if, during the time he was covering the class, a member of the leadership team popped their head around the classroom door to make sure he was ok and offered to give him back half an hour at another time in the same week, Mr X would feel valued rather than taken advantage of and be more likely to say yes if he is asked to cover a class in the future.

In Simon Sinek’s Book Leaders Eat Last he talks about how great leaders sacrifice their own comfort for the good of those in their care. Ironically, being a leader can often feel like a thankless task, as the higher up we go, it seems the less people there are to say ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ to us. But it’s at times like this that we need to consider the culture we are creating. If we are consistently appreciating the things that others do and instilling the importance of this at all levels we will see a shift in behaviour and those around you will also show their appreciation for the things that you do. Sometimes they may need to be reminded, but the more this happens the more habits are formed and the act of showing gratitude becomes part of the fabric of the school.

Gratitude comes in many forms: the easiest and cheapest is to say thank you. But you can also give time in lieu, write a personalised note, buy a gift as a small token of your appreciation or give a shoutout during a staff briefing. Sometimes the smallest gesture makes the biggest impact. The most important thing is making sure the gesture is made in the first place.

Take action: This week, find opportunities to show your gratitude to those you lead, especially those who often go under the radar because they just ‘get on with the job’. Take note of how it makes you feel when you see their reaction. Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

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