Called to Serve by Max De PreeDuring November, the De Pree Center is reflecting on gratitude, particularly the role it plays in our work. We thought it might be an interesting exercise to research what our namesake, Max De Pree, has to say about it. Not surprisingly, it’s an important topic to him and he has a lot to say about it. We’ve divided up his comments according to the book in which they appear.

The title of this post is taken from Max De Pree’s Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, and that seems an appropriate place to begin. Max’s words are followed by some questions for consideration and a nudge or two that might prompt all of us to become better at expressing our gratitude.

I like that Max didn’t just say “How important it is to say thank you!”; The words "Thank You" made out of craft materials.rather, he insists “How important it is to learn to say thank you!” Apart from those who have somehow achieved gratitude-guru status, we probably all have something to learn or, at the least, can improve on the ways we share our gratitude and thank individuals in an appropriate manner. Max catches me off guard in the very first citation.

“What would we do without our mentors and critics? Life would be risky. I treasure them and want to say thanks.”

— Max De Pree, p. 6. (Kindle Locations 10-11).

Max’s emphasis on thanking people for their work remains a constant. It is not something to be taken for granted.

“An effective board works seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of its members.”

Selection, of course, is crucial. The questions “Where do we get good people?” and “How do we get them?” are serious. The environment we create for growth and potential, as well as the satisfactions that come from doing good work well, motivate good people to work for love. I have always thought about board members as perpetual volunteers. The best of them are like lifetime free agents. Because the best board members have many opportunities and choices, the organization and its leaders develop programs for the care and feeding of these vital volunteers. They are provided good orientation and lucid, succinct information. There are ways for them to understand and become intimate with the work of the organization. They are challenged with measurable work, and maybe most important, they are thanked.

— Max De Pree, pp.18-19. (Kindle Locations 131-136).

Max loves telling a good illustrative story:

“Verley, let me tell you a story. Several weeks ago, I received in the mail a letter addressed ‘Max De Pree, Author of Dear Zoe, Holland, Michigan’ and on the bottom of the envelope was a note in red that said, ‘Please, God, help get this letter to him.’ Well, I was astonished that the post office had gone to the trouble of finding where that ought to be delivered, so I called the post office because I wanted to thank the postmaster for what they had done. When a man at the post office answered the phone, he said the postmaster was in a meeting, and I said, ‘Fine. I’ll call back later.’

And then he said, ‘If it’s a problem, I can take care of it.’

And I said. ‘No, it’s not a problem. I just want to say thank you.’

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’ll get him out of the meeting.’

And he did; so I told the postmaster the story and thanked him for the special service, and at that point, he really surprised me. He said, ‘We find about 100 letters like this a week that we have to do some special work on to get them delivered. You’re the first person who ever called to say thank you.’

While you will think of other ways of nurturing the board, never neglect to recognize, celebrate, and say thanks.”

— Max De Pree, pp.66-67 (Kindle Locations 387-394).

These next thoughts fall under the heading “An effective board says “thanks.” And while this book is primarily about board leadership and board participation, there are gems in it that pertain to all of us.

“How important it is to learn to say thank you! There are many ways to say thank you, but the problem is to find the most graceful and fitting.”

Max follows with some thoughts and a wonderful example of a graceful and fitting expression of thanks:

“When I think of thanking people who have a family, I try to find a way of thanking the family – they, after all, have borne the burden of service. The right thank you doesn’t have to cost a lot, but it does have to account for the needs of the people who are serving.

Verley, you remember Kareem Abdul Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players in college and the pros for many years. Seven feet two inches tall and on his last circuit of all the towns the Lakers played in, he was honored in every city because of who he was and what he had done for basketball. In Dallas, a businessman man presented a gift to Kareem and had obviously thought about saying thank you. He had a special table built, higher than usual, on which to place the gift for Kareem. The businessman observed that you shouldn’t ever make a person stoop to receive a gift. Now I think that is a marvelous lesson, isn’t it?”

—Max De Pree. p. 22 (Kindle Locations 152-159).

 

Questions to Consider

How important is it to you to say thank you? to be thanked?

“What would we do without our mentors and critics?”

Do you have mentors in your life? Do you communicate your gratitude to them on a regular basis? What about critics? How might they have contributed in positive ways to your life? Have you ever considered thanking them?

“…and maybe most important, they are thanked.”

Do you say thank you to the people who help you get your job done?

What do you consider a “graceful and fitting” form of thanks? Do you think this is a one-size-fits-all approach, or should thanking someone be custom-tailored to the recipient? What is your preferred way to be thanked? Has anyone ever asked you how you like to be thanked?

“You didn’t have to do that. Thank you.”

I would never even have thought to call and thank the postmaster as Max did. Would you have? Do you regularly notice when people make extraordinary efforts to do their jobs well? Do you think they deserve thanks?

 

Nudges to Action

Some ideas that might encourage you to “never neglect to recognize, celebrate, and say thanks”:

    1.One day this week, set aside 15 minutes to send five emails to people you haven’t gotten around to thanking.
    2. Get some attractive cards and hand write one to someone who really deserves a personal thank you from you. Do this once a week for the next month and decide how this might become a regular practice for you.
    3. Thoughtfully thank a critic.
    4. Set the bar a bit higher next time you thank someone. Ask yourself if your thanks could be labelled graceful and fitting.
    5. Have a discussion with your team about gratitude.
    6. Find out how the people you work with like to be thanked.
    7. Set aside time to think about all the people you encounter on a daily basis. Do they go an extra mile to do their jobs? Make a conscious effort to pay closer attention, and thank them when you notice that they do.
    8. Make a list of other people who have contributed in valuable ways to your life. How might you thank them? Set up a schedule to think of meaningful ways to express your gratitude to them.

 

Image Credit: “Thank You!” by MoeezOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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