More years ago than I care to consider, I started my own quiet little office tradition. I can’t claim the idea as uniquely my own, but I do know the concept came to mind for me on a particularly challenging day that was made unexpectedly, 180-degrees better by a simple handwritten letter from someone I only fleetingly met once. I don’t remember what the work crisis du jour was that had me momentarily out of sorts, but I certainly do remember that note, who it was from and what it said.
The letter became the very first document to go into my Happy File. A couple of decades later, that file is pretty fat. And it has gone with me to every job since—increasingly a little rough around the edges but more loved and appreciated with the passing years.
My Happy File is filled with cards, emails, formal letters and a few sticky notes. Each of those tokens represents a person whose path crossed mine, some on a daily basis and some only once. Some of those people are no longer with us. Every message is filled with encouragement, appreciation, affirmation and thanks; every message reflects another person’s consideration towards me and an understanding that a personal sentiment or simple handwritten thanks is worth more than its weight in gold.
When self-doubt creeps in or I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, a quick look through my Happy File can be a pretty powerful thing. I believe when other people put down in words what a great job you did or how much your efforts benefited them, the intent is undeniable and indelible. Reading messages like these again after time has passed is an effective reminder of your capabilities and impact—and can help us regain a bit of lost mojo.
So, here’s the leadership lesson in all of this. YOUR words are so meaningful to others; share them. Take the time to recognize what your team members do well and put it down in writing. I would like to challenge you as a leader to kindle this tradition in your own workplace or where you volunteer—and actually give your direct reports or peers their own starter Happy File…with the first letter or card from you.
At Milestone Leadership, we know leaders worth following take the time to recognize and reinforce the positive things their team members do. Great leaders know that high functioning organizations result when people feel appreciated, acknowledged and confident. Don’t leave others to wonder if they’re making a difference—tell them.
P.S. If you decide to take this challenge, would you please let us know how it goes?
Kelly Hale Syer