Leadership-Art-MaxDuring this month of November, I’ve been investigating what Max De Pree, our Center’s namesake, has to say about gratitude and the role it plays in our work and leadership. Because Max touches upon gratitude so often, I’ve divided up his comments according to which book they appear in. Today we’ll look at his Leadership Is an Art.

As in Part I and Part 2 of this series, we start with Max’s own words 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!” Because, like leadership, expressing gratitude is an art.

Max reminds us that saying thank you matters!

“Only in communities do we respect and honor and thank the people who contribute to our interdependent lives.”

— Max De Pree, introduction. (Kindle Location 92).

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

— Max De Pree, p.11. (Kindle Location 269).

“What is it most of us really want from work? We would like to find the most effective, most productive, most rewarding way of working together. We would like to know that our work process uses all of the appropriate and pertinent resources: human, physical, financial. We would like a work process and relationships that meet our personal needs for belonging, for contributing, for meaningful work, for the opportunity to make a commitment, for the opportunity to grow and be at least reasonably in control of our own destinies. Finally we’d like someone to say ‘Thank you!’ ”

— Max De Pree, p.23. (Kindle Location 362).

“Shortly before one of these meetings, I had received a wonderful letter from the mother of one of our handicapped employees. It was a touching letter of gratitude for the efforts of many people at Herman Miller to make life meaningful and rich for a person who is seriously disadvantaged. Because we have a strong, albeit a quiet, effort going on in the company to empower the disadvantaged and to recognize the authenticity of everyone in the group, it seemed to be a good idea to read this letter to the officers and directors. I almost got through this letter but could not finish. There I stood in front of this group of people—some of them pretty hard-driving—tongue-tied and embarrassed, unable to continue. At that point, one of our senior vice presidents, Joe Schwartz—urbane, elegant, mature—strode up the center aisle, put his arm around my shoulder, kissed me on the cheek, and adjourned the meeting. That is the kind of weeping we need more of.”

— Max De Pree, pp. 136-137. (Kindle Location 1232).

“What do we weep over? What should we weep over? By now, having read this far you could probably predict that I would make a list. Here are some things we probably ought to weep about:

Thank you in five languages

• superficiality
• a lack of dignity
• injustice, the flaw that prevents equity
• great news!
• tenderness
• a word of thanks
• separation
• arrogance
• betrayal of ideas, of principles, of quality
• jargon, because it confuses rather than clarifies
• looking at customers as interruptions
• leaders who watch bottom lines without watching behavior
• the inability of folks to tell the difference between heroes and celebrities
• confusing pleasure with meaning
• leaders who never say “Thank you”
• having to work in a job where you are not free to do your best
• good people trying to follow leaders who depend on politics and hierarchy rather than on trust and competence
• people who are gifts to the spirit”

— Max De Pree, pp. 138-140. (Kindle Location 1246-65).

Questions to Consider

What role does gratitude have in shaping your workplace reality?

Do you say thank you at work?

Have you ever wept over a particularly beautiful expression of thanks? What was it that brought you to tears? Do you ever make others weep when you say thank you?

Have you ever worked with a leader who didn’t say thank you? How did it make you feel? What effect did it have on the morale of the organization?

What steps do you take to avoid being a thankless leader?

How do you nurture a culture of gratitude at work?

Nudges to Action


    1. Is your organization a grateful organization? Do people feel thanked? Find out. Get others to help you discover who might feel underappreciated. If you don’t like what you discover, take steps to cultivate gratitude. Start with yourself.


    1. Next time you need to thank someone, make your thanks specific and authentic.


    1. Experiment with expressions of gratitude. Find out how various individuals prefer to be thanked and thank them accordingly.


    1. Make time to reflect on things you’re grateful for with your team on a regular basis. A gratitude journal or bulletin board might be useful here. Cross departmental lines to help spread the spirit of gratitude.


  1. Read and reflect on these articles and you explore how to cultivate a gratitude in your place of work: Gratitude that Defines Reality by Mark Roberts, 5 Simple Ways to Harness The Power of Gratitude At Work by Harvey Deutschendorf in Fast Company, and Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work​, by Jeremy Adam Smith at Greater Good.


Image Credit: “Thank You” by Michael Mandiberg, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Tagged with:

Comments are closed.