Leadership Spotlight

Leading with the Pen: The Handwritten Note

Stock image of a man writing a handwritten note.

When was the last time you received a handwritten note? Maybe it thanked you for a job well done or acknowledged your help on a specific task. Perhaps the note congratulated you on a recent promotion or encouraged you during a difficult time. Do you remember how you felt while opening the envelope and reading it? Did you think about the time the person took to select the card, compose personal thoughts, and ensure you received the note?

Employees want assurance that their leaders care about them. They want to know their leaders appreciate them for what they do and who they are. Further, personnel want to see that their leaders are sympathetic to their circumstances. How are you showing appreciation to those you lead? What steps are you taking to demonstrate that you care about the people who work for you?  

As a leader, do you write personal notes to your employees? Maybe you should. Effective leaders inspire and encourage their personnel. They show employees they care about them. Most personnel experience some type of memorable event, such as getting married, becoming a parent, transitioning to a new position, or grieving the loss of a loved one, during their career. Imagine how those who work for you would feel if they received a handwritten note from you acknowledging such an event or, perhaps, thanking them for putting in extra hours to ensure the success of a special initiative.

Notes can be short; a few sentences will do. Speak from your heart, drawing on your empathy and compassion, and do so concisely: “Thank you for your continued contributions to developing Project A. I value your knowledge and skills and know your work will make a difference in our community.” “I realize you’ve spent a lot of time working on Project A, which means you haven’t been able to attend all of your daughter’s school functions. I want you and your family to know how much I appreciate your sacrifices.” “Congratulations on your new son! I hope this is a time of much love and joy for you and your whole family.” Quantity of words is not the point―sincerity is. If you are not sure what to write, numerous resources exist to help you compose your personal note. Books and websites offer ideas for crafting personal messages for various occasions.

Leaders should remember that leadership is not about them. Rather, it is about their employees. Take the time to invest in personnel by recognizing their contributions. Consider showing your gratitude and support through a handwritten note. You may positively impact employees, leave a lasting impression, and inspire them with this simple, yet personal, tool.

Cynthia Lewis, an instructor in the Leadership and Communications Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.