The Awesome Power of Thank Yous

Posted by on Jan 4, 2015 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

By Perry Smith

Fred Kyler did not look like the typical fighter pilot, he was short and dumpy—folks thought he looked like the goofy cartoon character, Mister Magoo. Yet, with great success, Brigadier General Kyler commanded the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, Germany for four years. In the sixty-seven year history of the Air Force, no one else has ever commanded a fighter wing for that long.

During his tenure, the wing earned many professional awards including the highly regarded Daedalian Award for the best aircraft maintenance in the entire Air Force.

When I was about to assume command of this F-15 equipped fighter wing, I asked General Kyler, “What is the secret of your success.” His answer was simple. “All day long I look for opportunities to thank people.” He went on to explain that people of all ranks love to be recognized for their hard work and a thank you from the big boss can be very special. He also explained that they worked with greater enthusiasm if they know that they are both appreciated and recognized.

The rector at Saint Paul’s church in downtown Augusta, George Muir, in a recent sermon, told a powerful story. When he was a small child and it was time to open Christmas presents, his parents had a rule that was inviolate. “George, you may open your presents but you cannot play with them until you write your thank you notes”. Muir went on to explain that the very first time very young children put two words together the phrase is often, “Thank you”.

During the 2009 campaign to raise funds for the new Fisher House

, a hand-written thank-you note was sent to many of the contributors. The note expressed the appreciation of the Fisher House capital campaign committee. It also explained that more funds were needed. The result was very rewarding. One individual, who had sent in a very large check a few months prior to receiving the note of thanks, sent in another check of the same size shortly after receiving the note. Others gave once again. The result: the Fisher House capital campaign soon passed its goal. Located next to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, it may be the best equipped Fisher House in the world.

One way to thank people for their generosity is to acknowledge their contributions in newsletters, annual reports, brochures, programs at events, etc. To quote Kevin Grogan, the executive director of the Morris Museum of Art, it is better to “over acknowledge” than to “under acknowledge. “

Let me relate one more story about the Reverend George Muir. When he goes to work each Monday morning, the first thing he does is pull out his pen and his Saint Paul’s Church note cards. He writes notes to those who have done something special for St. Paul’s church within the last few days. He mails these cards before noon on Monday–hence the notes reach people early in the week. His basic philosophy is—don’t postpone joy. In each note, he explains why he is writing and saves his thank you till the end.

Nancy Glaser, the executive director of the Augusta Museum of History, acknowledges gifts on the web site and writes thank yous to all who contribute. At the Jimmie Dyess Symposium, the program highlights contributors by category (platinum, gold, diamond, silver and bronze).

The Ronald MacDonald House has a fascinating and highly successful way of thanking people while raising funds at the same time. For your $20 contribution to the Ronald MacDonald House, the staff sends a note on your behalf to someone you are trying to thank. This a wonderful way to let people know you are thinking of them—especially at this time of year—while, at the same time, making contributions to a very worthy cause.

For those who might be interested in improving their skills in showing appreciation for the contributions of others, the following short books are recommended.

101 Ways to Say Thank You: by Browne.
The Verbal Hug by Lisa Ryan.

Here is one quote from The Verbal Hug. “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Creative thanking can have an uplifting impact on family members, co-workers, subordinates and bosses and even on those you may not know. So let me close this article by thanking each of you for reading this article from top to bottom.

Perry M Smith is the co-author (with Jeff Foley) of Rules and Tools for Leaders. His email address is; web site:

[This column appeared in the Augusta Chronicle on January 4, 2015]

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