It was the fall of 1982. I was 3 months out of college, working for an accounting firm in San Antonio.
Up to that point it had been an uneventful start to my career, since the summer is a slow time for most accounting groups. I spent hours at my cubicle just studying up for the CPA exam, and serving as a “go-fer” for the higher ups in the office (lets just say I knew my way around the copy and storage rooms).
I was on the lowest rung of the ladder, and there was no mistaking it.
And it was quite unsettling for me. I wanted to work, and prove myself to the rest of the firm. But it seemed like I was being “parked” in the back room, an accessory waiting for the busy season to kick in, and my name to finally show up on a client calendar.
It was an impersonal process, and I hadn’t expected that. I assumed we’d get more direct interaction and guidance, beyond “hey, can you drop off this report to the client across town?”.
Something was missing. And then it got even more unsettling.
As the fall came and the client work increased, my name did finally end up on a client team list. I was going to be on the audit team for the local Rodeo & Stock show (so very Texas, I know). The good news was that I had an experienced Senior accountant on the job with me, so I’d finally have a chance to get that mentoring I was looking for.
Or so I thought. After one day on the job the Senior got called to a bigger and more important engagement, and I was left at the client’s office to fend for myself.
All I had was my accounting degree and last year’s workpapers to guide me, and a deadline to get it all done in two weeks, in time for the client’s board meeting.
I was totally stressed out – there I was, my first real client engagement, and I was on my own.
Of course, all kind of bad thoughts went through my head as I pressed on, sometimes 16 hours a day, to meet the deadline.
“What if I fail? What if this is all wrong, and the client is upset? My career is toast, and I just got out of school!”
My stomach got tied up in knots, and it was hard to sleep. But I was determined NOT to screw up, so I put every ounce of effort into making sure I got the job done right.
I made sure the client was informed, and involved, and tried to make it sound like I knew what I was doing when I asked them questions.
I added, re-added, and re-added every column of numbers on my handwritten worksheets (there weren’t laptops and Excel spreadsheets then).
I grinded it out, page by page, audit item by audit item, until I achieved the goal – a “clean” set of financial statements.
The high level manager in my firm who actually was the “lead” on the engagement had also been pre-occupied by a more important (and bigger) client, and didn’t show up until it was time to deliver the financial statements. But he had a stake in the outcome too, and (as I found out later) was taking a big risk in leaving me out at the rodeo to fend for myself.
So he was understandably relieved when he saw my work, and it was all as it needed to be.
The client was happy, and the job was complete. Everyone then moved on to the next jobs, and I went back to my cubicle, exhausted.
I felt like I had dodged a bullet, satisfied that I had bucked it up and pulled through, but I was unhappy.
My unsettled feeling had only intensified. “Is this the way it’s going to be around here”?
I wasn’t sure I was going to be cut out for this type of work, and impersonal atmosphere.
And then two days later, I got a phone call. It was from the high level manager on the Rodeo job.
“Hey, can you stop by and see me?”
I went over to his office slowly, not knowing what to expect. Did he find a mistake after the fact that he’s going to chew me out about? Did the client complain?
Nope on both counts.
“Terry, I just wanted to thank you for doing a fantastic job. You busted your butt on this one, and the client was pleased. And on top of that, you did it with almost no supervision. Thanks again, and I’d gladly recommend you to the other managers”
I walked out of his office with a huge smile on my face, my outlook and feelings totally turned around. My confidence had been restored. That “Thank You” was exactly what I needed, and after that day, I never felt unsettled at that firm again.
That’s how I discovered the incredible power of those two little words. “Thank You”. To be appreciated is to feel valued. And to be valued makes us inspired to do more, and to BE more.
That’s how it worked for me 31 years ago, and I have never forgotten that lesson.
To express gratitude through the two most important words is one of the most human things we can do as a leader. And it means SO much.
(Photo by Bigstock)