While I was growing up, my parents were always very strict about having good manners, whether we were at home or out and about. We were taught to say thank you to each other, to friends, to shopkeepers and to anyone else we came into contact with who did something useful or nice for us. If someone holds a lift door for you, you say “thank you”; if someone serves you a drink, you say “thank you”; if your mother cooks you a meal, you say “thank you.” This was ingrained in us from a very early age and slowly became automatic behaviour.
Samantha and I have tried to raise our children the same way.
But saying “thank you” is just the tip of the iceberg, the important aspect of this attitude is to feel grateful.
When you feel grateful for everything you have in your life, whether it is good food, a steady job, good friends and close family – or all of these things – you start every day from a positive place and everything else is gravy. Every challenge is just a challenge, not a disaster; you can take knockbacks in your stride.
This attitude of feeling the gratitude for everything that you have in life follows on nicely from the emphasis I encouraged you to put on ambition over greed in an earlier chapter. Greed is all about never having enough – which also means not being grateful for what you have. Ambition is all about taking steps to build on what you have achieved, which means being grateful for each new achievement.
Gratitude feels nice. And it feels nice both to give appreciation and to accept appreciation; everyone wins when gratitude is practised!
I always notice the people who come and say thank you to me. It doesn't matter what it's for, it's the fact that they've taken time out of their day to come and say thank you. I've had people thank me for the Christmas parties we've had, for a pay rise they've received, even for the opportunity to work for the company in the first place. As I've described, some of my team come from backgrounds that wouldn't traditionally have led them to become involved in financial services, but we will recruit anyone who shows ambition and some core ability. And I've noticed that those who have come from non-traditional backgrounds, rather than from banking or the business world, tend to be more grateful for the opportunity to create a solid career in financial services than those who expect it. When people have a sense of entitlement or have overinflated expectations, they tend to be less grateful, and thus less pleasant and enjoyable to be around. When people are feeling grateful for what they have in their lives, they are happy and positive, and thus enjoyable to be around. Their positivity tends to affect those around them and everyone benefits.
I believe that gratitude is the foundation of a happy and successful life, and of a happy and successful company. When we've won awards, such as “Best Buy to Let Broker” from The Mortgage Strategy Awards and “Best Specialist Mortgage Broker” at The British Mortgage Awards, people have asked me what I feel sets us apart from other similar businesses, and I've always referenced our good working culture; I believe that our success is rooted in having a great working community that has been built by every member of the team.
Maybe it all comes down to picking good people. In the end, you are the people you pick. Your team represents you, so picking the right people is the first step to creating a successful company. When you create a good working culture and pick the right people to become part of your team, you will inspire the right attitude – and that will include a sense of gratitude.
Gratitude and good manners should be a fundamental part of life, whether at home or at work. No person or act is too small to be given thanks for or to. And when you treat people well, when you make them feel appreciated, you will be rewarded with their loyalty. When people do not feel appreciated, they will not be loyal.
Appreciation can be more valuable than monetary rewards. If someone is feeling underappreciated and they get a better offer elsewhere, even if it pays less, they will probably take it. I know this because I have known plenty of people who will take a pay cut in order to join my company. They know that they may be paid less in the short term, but in the long term the opportunities are bigger, and the working culture will always be more rewarding.
I believe that good manners and a culture of gratitude should be fundamental parts of any company's “best practice” policy. Putting your “best foot forward” is about showing appreciation for everyone who contributes to your success.
I don't think society puts enough emphasis on the value of manners. I believe we all need to show and receive common courtesy; I believe our success – at every level, from personal to professional – is dependent on having a sense of gratitude and respect for others. And the practice of good manners creates a chain reaction. When someone shows another person gratitude and respect, that person is more likely to show the same to others, and the world gradually becomes a better and better place.
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true; when people feel unappreciated, they do not create a good atmosphere, so it's up to each and every one of us to do our bit.
I definitely have my parents to thank for my general attitude when it comes to manners and gratitude. They instilled these fundamental attitudes in me so that it's never an effort to think about thanking people – it comes automatically to me. It's all about having respect for people. When you respect all those around you, you automatically create a good environment.
I believe it's important to instil good manners in children as soon as they learn to communicate. It is a fundamental part of good communication. It also has to be shown by example. When children are small, if we respect them and show them the gratitude that we expect from them in turn, it makes it easier for them to learn. They need a lot of prompting to begin with, but this goes for anything that they learn. You keep up the gentle reminders. My kids are still learning. They have a lot to be grateful for because they lead very privileged lives compared to the huge majority of children in the world, and I always impress that upon them. They are pretty good with the big things, but I have to remind them sometimes that a simple thank you for the smaller things will never go unnoticed or unappreciated.
And it's not just other people you have to thank; you have to thank yourself from time to time! It's very easy, especially when you are trying to build a business as an entrepreneur, to forget to be grateful to yourself for the effort you put in. It's important because not everyone sees the efforts you've put in. If you don't have a boss above you giving you credit where credit is due, you have to give it to yourself.
When it comes to gratitude, you really have to be nice to yourself as well and give yourself rewards to thank yourself for all your hard work. If you can't be nice to you, something will always be holding you back. I think this is particularly hard when you're an entrepreneur and you want to sink every penny into your business. I've struggled to “treat” myself. We'd never been on particularly extravagant holidays, but a couple of years ago I decided we deserved something a bit special, something over and above the ordinary, and so I took the family on a couple of very special holidays – one to the Caribbean and one to Lapland (making sure my children understood how lucky they were and that they duly thanked their parents for the treat!).
It's very easy to assume that someone who is “the boss” and “in charge” of the company doesn't need to be thanked, but everyone is human; we all need to feel appreciated from time to time. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Part of what I'm doing when I show my appreciation is leading by example. I try to be as open as possible, and that means being transparent and accessible. I hope that anyone in my company who has a problem feels that they can talk to me.
The way I have structured the physical layout of my office reflects the transparency and inclusion I want people to feel. We have an open-plan office and even though I have a separate office with a door in one corner of the main floor, it is a glass cubicle so that people see that I'm there on a daily basis.
It really means something to me when people thank me for a company event. Not everyone thinks to do so, but when they do it makes me glad that I spent the money. Because it is still a choice I have to make, to spend the money on an event or party to thank my team. Some of them may think it is the “company” that pays – this is true, but it's my company, so I am the one making the choice to spend that money on giving them a party rather than on something else.
People don't have to say “thank you” in order to work for me, it won't be directly detrimental to their careers if they don't, but it could mean the difference between being considered for new opportunities or not in an indirect way. When people go out of their way to show their gratitude they become memorable; it's a good measure of their attitude. When you are ambitious, when you are building your business, you want to promote people who genuinely have the right attitude – and gratitude is a great measure of this.
On the surface, I am always more impressed by someone's manners than their skills. You can teach someone with the right attitude how to improve their skills, but you can't teach someone to have a good attitude if they don't have one in the first place, no matter how skilled they are.
I always impress upon new recruits that the right attitude will take them a long way. A good attitude puts you on the radar and will buy you time to prove yourself, even if you haven't picked things up as fast as others. Obviously you would need to get up to speed eventually. If you really can't pick things up and do the job you're hired to do, that will be a difficult conversation down the line, but good manners and the right attitude will buy you a little more time to get it right.
But gratitude works both ways. I also go out of my way to extend huge gratitude to everyone who works with me. Without them I would not have a successful company. Every member of my team contributes to the growth and continued success of my business and so I make a point of thanking them.
One thing I strongly advocate, as a way of showing your appreciation to the members of your team – whether they are ranked above, below or on a level with you – is to know their names and what their contribution is to the overall project. No matter how large my company grows (at time of writing it is coming close to 200-strong), I make a point of knowing the name of every person who works in our company.
It's never too late to say thank you. Sometimes I notice someone working particularly hard during the day but I don't get a chance to speak to them directly. I will try to make a mental note to send them a quick email or WhatsApp message in the evening before I go to bed. Many people have expressed their surprise, but immense pleasure, at getting a little message from me at the end of the day. For me to shoot off a quick message saying “Thank you for your hard work today, I really appreciate your contribution to the business” takes a few seconds, but it can make a huge difference to someone and encourage them to continue working at that level. It might be the essential boost they need if they are beginning to feel a little burnt out.
You never know what someone might be going through. Never underestimate the positive impact your words could have on them. This kind of appreciation goes a long way towards securing their loyalty. They might value a good working environment over a small hike in salary. As an entrepreneur you can't pay huge salaries, you can't compete with the huge corporate employers in terms of money and tangible benefits, but you can pay people in kind by creating a work environment with a personal touch. That's where, as an entrepreneur, you can compete with the corporate employers.
The big corporations can never give the personal attention I can give. An employee at one of those huge companies isn't likely to receive a personal text message from the owner of the company late in the evening.
Manners are important both ways: from employer to employee and from employee to employer. And the most important part (as I was always taught growing up) is that good manners cost nothing. In fact, I would argue that bad manners could cost you in the long run.
If you want your staff to be productive, showing them decent manners, and expressing your gratitude from time to time, is not just a good thing to do energetically, it is a good business decision. When you lead by example, your team will follow, so your customers will experience good manners and an attitude of appreciation; this could be the difference between someone choosing your product over your competitor's product.
When people talk about wealth, they are often referring to money in the bank, but when I think of “wealth” I think of it in a more holistic way. I think being wealthy is about getting to work with people who have a wealthy mindset. Having a sense of gratitude and deep compassion for other people underpins that mindset. It doesn't matter what your bank balance is, if your actions are causing distress to people, or damaging the world, then you're not a very wealthy person.
I work in an industry where what we do deeply impacts people's lives. A mortgage can be the make or break for someone; they could get the home they've set their hearts on… or not. It feels really good when people acknowledge what we've done for them because, as a mortgage broker, you get pretty invested on an emotional level, along with your client.
The service industry is a people industry. Financial services are no different to other services; they help improve people's lives. It's hugely important to me that we are providing an excellent service and I'm proud of our 1500+ five-star TrustPilot reviews.
I also always feel sadness when we lose a member of our team. When you show genuine gratitude, you can really make yourself stand out and be remembered. I remember when, in the first half of 2019, a particular employee was leaving because she and her family were moving out of the area. She came over and made a point of thanking me for the employment and training she'd received from us – basically for the opportunity she'd had. She got quite emotional when she was talking to me and I was very touched. I later went out of my way to ask our Operations Director whether we had done everything in our power to get this employee to stay. I would have gone that extra mile for someone who showed such appreciation. She wasn't even someone I'd spoken to that much before, but her speech on the day she was leaving really touched me.
When you display good manners and gratitude, you really set yourself apart and stand out from the crowd. It costs nothing in monetary terms or in terms of time, but it could change your life. It could push you forward in someone's mind and make you stand out from the crowd. Of course, it has to be genuine. You can spot fake gratitude a mile away!
The point I'm really trying to drive home here is that, ultimately, good manners and true gratitude aren't just “nice” things to have; you can actually forward your career with the right approach. It could be the one thing that separates you from the pack if, for example, you were equally qualified as someone else and there was only one job or promotion available.
I know I'm not perfect. I am regularly monitoring and working on many aspects of myself, but the one area in which I know I've done well is in being grateful to myself and those around me. I know I've been raised well and that I have good manners; I'm very confident about that. And I try to surround myself with people who have similar values.
At the end of the day, it's all about having good intentions. If you have good intentions, I believe you will get far in life.
Whenever I meet someone for the first time, whether socially or professionally – say for a job interview – I find myself assessing whether they have good manners and good intentions. Those are the people I want to spend my time with. That's why we have assessment days. A short interview isn't enough time to get a sense of someone's values; on our assessment days we get to look at people in more depth to ensure that we offer opportunities to those who have the qualities that we value, so we look at how people respond in a variety of different scenarios. It's important to be surrounded by like-minded people when you work closely together as a team. We all do this when we are choosing new friends and it's important to extend that to when we are looking for employment, or for employees. We all want and need to find the “right fit”, and it needs to work both ways.
Of course, when we have given someone that opportunity because we've felt they are the “right fit” it's very nice to have that validated with a thank you. When someone goes out of their way to say thank you, it does make them stand out. I'm always impressed when someone new we've hired seeks me out; it takes guts to do that. When they come into my office – when the door's open (I try to ensure it is unless I'm on a conference call or need to specifically focus on something) and they pop their head in and say, “Sorry to bother you, Ying, but I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity and I'm going to give this my best shot,” it makes them stick out in my mind. I will always remember that person. Even if that person isn't the best mortgage broker to begin with, I will work that bit harder with them because they have impressed me with the right attitude.
And it's not just the people above you that you need to thank; you have to look at those “above” you and those “below” you in the office food chain.
Everyone starts from the same place when they join our company. When you're a trainee, you do all your own admin, your own paperwork, getting all the information from the client, but as you get more experienced, you get more admin support. Those case handlers don't earn commission like the mortgage consultants so they need special appreciation for the work they do. Just as I want loyalty from my mortgage consultants, they need loyalty from their case handlers. I always tell my consultants: “These are the people who will be helping you make the six-figure salary; show your appreciation. A few words of thanks, or a small gift now and again, will go a long way towards securing their loyalty.” I get quite irritated when I see consultants being unappreciative of their admin staff. They are reliant on these people; it's essential that they show their gratitude. The salespeople have the opportunity to earn commission because they are on the front line, but if they don't stay connected to the people who help them, they will lose out in the end because they will not maintain the loyalty of the admin staff.
On special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, I try to hand deliver a small gift to every member of the team. I could easily get my PA to do it, but I think it means more to people that I go out of my way to do this – more, say, than the actual value of the gift, which is usually something fairly modest.
When people see you giving equal respect and gratitude to everyone around you, from the cleaner through the PAs to your top consultants and management team, it creates a good working culture where people know that, whatever they do, their work will be appreciated. I really don't like it when I see people disrespect those they feel are “beneath” them. It doesn't matter if someone cleans the toilets or signs the pay cheques… everyone is a real person with a real life to go to.
I was taught this by example. When I was at Goldman Sachs I remember the director in charge of the sales floor I was on (which probably had around 400 staff working on it) would walk around and say hello. He knew everyone by name. He was from the US and had quite a strong accent… and an even stronger presence. I was so impressed that he knew each of us by name and got a real buzz when it was my turn to be greeted.
“Hey, Ying, how are you doing, buddy?” he'd say.
It's such a simple gesture, but when you say someone's name, you are acknowledging them. They know it is genuine. Again, it comes down to respect. You show respect when you address someone by their name. They know you have gone out of your way to know who they are.
I usually get into the office extremely early so I can get out in time to pick the kids up from their activities, but on the days when I leave the office late, I will make a point of saying goodbye to anyone who is still there. I address them by name and thank them for being there late, for the hard work and long hours they are putting in. I always get a smile out of people when I do that, which makes me feel better as well.
At the end of the day, in the most simplistic terms, it feels good to be thanked and it feels good to say thanks.
There is a general positive feeling around the practice of gratitude. I feel this so much that I actually thank people for thanking me! This makes people laugh, but I can't help it, it makes me so grateful when I hear words of thanks – which I don't hear that often – that I have to thank people, to show that it means a lot to me. Money will buy you a lot of things, but it won't buy gratitude. You only get that when someone decides to give it to you.
A word of genuine thanks is free to give and priceless to receive.