Leadership Jazz by Max De PreeDuring this month of November, the De Pree Center is reflecting on gratitude, particularly the role it plays in our work. I’ve been researching what our namesake, Max De Pree, has to say about it. In Part I of this series, we looked at what Max says about saying thanks in his book Called to Serve. Today we’ll look at Leadership Jazz – Revised Edition: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader.

As in Part I, we start with Max’s own words. These will be followed by some questions for you to consider and some nudges that might prompt you to become better at expressing your gratitude. Our focus remains on “How important it is to learn to say thank you!”Thank you written on a Post-it note.

For Max, good relationships, gratitude, and leadership are inseparable:

“Do you understand—really understand—how crucial relationships are? Carl Frost, another of my wonderful mentors, a professor at Michigan State University and consultant to Herman Miller, called me to task one day for having treated a small work team quite unfairly. He advised me that if I was going to treat people in such a fashion, I should practice my leadership at home, where people love me enough to forgive my mistakes. Here at work, he said, they don’t love you that much. Remember: Good relationships are rooted in gratitude.

— Max De Pree, Introduction to 2008 Edition, Leadership Jazz – Revised Edition: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader. The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Location 85).

“Gratitude declares my dependence on you. This basis for taking action lies at the root of growing good relationships, relationships around the world that themselves are the basis for the actions of a group, team, or organization. Creating and encouraging these relationships is crucial to leaders. As in other areas of leadership, talk alone is insufficient. We express gratitude through behavior.”

— Max De Pree, Introduction to 2008 Edition. (Kindle Locations 104-6).

“If you’ve been reading and reflecting and making connections in your own mind, and if you’ve begun to scribble between the lines and in the margins—if you’ve begun to fill up the figurative and literal space in Leadership Jazz— you, too, have become part of the fabric of this book and the ideas in it. And you have joined the group of people to whom I want to say thank you. Have you taken five to ponder the nature of the contribution that other people make to your leadership? I highly recommend it.”

— Max De Pree, p. 91. (Kindle Location 955-62).

“I’m sure you already have a set of questions you ask yourself about leadership, depending on your discipline or industry or institution. Let me suggest some more as a way of measuring our progress toward becoming better leaders. Perhaps you haven’t thought of these, and I hope you will add to this list. Together we can make some headway.

“When was the last time I called to say thank you?….”

— Max De Pree, p. 95. (Kindle Location 989-95).

“What do we do with the results of delegation? First, of course, we say thank you. Then we give recognition to the delegate within the organization. These two things seem obvious to me.”

— Max De Pree, p. 131. (Kindle Location 1329).

“And then falls to leaders perhaps the most rewarding part of their jobs—acknowledging the efforts of other people and saying thank you.”

— Max De Pree, p. 88. (Kindle Locations 940).

“Intimacy with one’s own job requires you to remain ignorant about some things, to trust to others, to be thankful that other people know more than you do!”

— Max De Pree, p. 55. (Kindle Location 646).

Questions to Consider:

“Creating and encouraging these relationships is crucial to leaders.”

As a leader, how do carry out the crucial responsibility of creating and encouraging relationships with others in your organization? What role does gratitude play in building and maintaining those relationships? Are some better grounded than others? What do you do to maintain these roots well?

Have you taken five to ponder the nature of the contribution that other people make to your leadership? Have you expressed you gratitude recently?

When was the last time you called to say thank you?

Nudges to Action:


    1. As you ponder the questions above, make a list of those to whom you’re especially grateful for their contribution to your leadership. Make time and say thank you.


    1. Are there those you work with—perhaps direct reports, colleagues who have gone out of their way to help you, or often overlooked support-people, etc.—who are due expressions of gratitude from you? Consider the best way to communicate your gratitude and thank them.


    1. Set aside time in you schedule once a week, once a month—you know what’s likely to work best for you—and take time to email, hand-write, verbalize or communicate in whatever way your debt of gratitude, which is so vital to maintaining those good relationships.


  1. Find a “gratitude buddy,” someone with whom you can plot various ways to say thank you and discern recipients of those thanks, or create a “Gratitude Group” consisting of people who can work together with you to make your workplace a place of gratitude. Then get to work!


Image Credit: “Thank You” by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix), CC BY-NC 2.0.

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