Hollywood Reporter recently did a profile on Parks & Rec star Amy Poehler. They revealed that among the many hats Poehler wears — including writer, actor, comedian, improviser, producer, and director — leader should be included in the list.
As her pal and often times co-star Tina Fey put it, “Amy is a natural leader. And that doesn’t always mean bossing people around. Part of being a good leader is listening and being empathetic.”
Case in point, Seth Myers, who shared the Saturday Night Live weekend update desk with Poehler from 2006-2008, had this to say: “There were hosts that we liked more than others, but no matter who it was, if Poehler was on the floor during rehearsals, she’d go over and make them feel comfortable. And that’s a job that no one is assigned at SNL. But Amy took it upon herself to make it a good environment, not just for the people who work there, but for the people who just spent a week there.”
So, case made for Poehler as a leader. But what does she do that makes her an exceptional leader, one we all can learn from? Some would look to Poehler’s improvisational background and say it must be that she’s adept at expressing her thoughts and feelings, her opinion, herself. All true, but she expresses something far more powerful.
Poehler expresses unexpected gratitude.
When Poehler was making Parks and Rec, she started a tradition that co-creator and showrunner Mike Schur copied and took with him to his current show, The Good Place. After an episode would wrap, there’d be a dinner for cast and crew. Poehler would start a cycle of complements — she’d praise one person in detail and then ask them to pick out another and do the same, and so on and so on until everyone had a chance to feel uplifted.
Poehler would always start it by picking out someone who wasn’t expecting it, someone who wasn’t in the spotlight, like a makeup person or a camera operator. Schur said, “It was just the most wonderful way to end a work experience.”
I’ve been a part of a daisy chain of compliments passed around, also at a team dinner, like Poehler’s. It’s a great experience; it organically turns heartfelt and heartwarming.
But it’s the unexpected part that’s magic.
When you see a leader recognizing someone who doesn’t always get the recognition, it signals how in touch with the organization he/she is. It sends a message that everyone is valued for their unique role/contributions.
Assuming the person is being recognized in a way they’re comfortable with, they’re often overcome with genuine appreciation for the kind words and it makes them want to work even harder for that leader.
Leaders of all kinds, at work, leaders of a family, in a community, can all express unexpected gratitude. If you don’t have team dinners, you can write unexpected emails of gratitude.
Some of my favorite reasons for sending unexpected emails of gratitude include for being a great business partner, for an attritubute/skill that you really appreciate about them, for going above and beyond, or for them stepping up in a tough situation.
You can also write a gratitude letter, extolling the virtues of someone in a hand written letter, and then reading it to them aloud before handing it over. I have used this method to great effect.
Whatever the form it takes, unexpected gratitude is a tool leaders should wield for the expected result — profound gratitude in return.