Success and the Thank You Note

04/16/2011 06:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2011

You didn't have to squeeze me but you did
But you did but you did
And I thank you.

- Sam and Dave

Dan Sullivan, the "Strategic Coach" for entrepreneurs, once said that all it took to be successful was to:

1. Be on Time
2. Finish What You Start
3. Say Please and Thank You

Basically, everything comes down to respect and appreciation of other people.

Finishing what I start is my toughest hurdle to overcome. But I live the "be on time" principal. I'm rarely late for anything and people who consistently run late usually don't have long-term relationships with me. Most employers, including myself, treasure the concept of being on time. This is why we have time clocks and ways to measure it.

Business people know that it is not the idea, but the implementation, that means success. You can immediately identify people who finish what they start. They have money in their pockets.

My business will sometimes send small gifts, such as a book or a box of candy, to people who have helped us. Sometimes we send something to every person in an organization. Over the years, a pattern has developed. The high-ranking executives will send a thank you note, often hand-written, within days of receiving the gift. Sometimes they will call to thank us, along with sending a note. Mid-level employees tend to email or mention it the next time they see me. Lower-level people usually don't acknowledge the gift at all.

Although this pattern is not 100% consistent, (some top people ignore us and some low level people send gushing notes), there is enough of a correlation that I really started to notice the pattern and come to a conclusion: One of the reasons people make it to the top is that they remember to say "Thank you."

Success in life is usually about relationships. No one rises to the top by herself. Somewhere along the way, there was a family member, teacher, mentor or friend who helped a person get to a higher level. Those who get to the top of the mountain never forget that.

I've always been hit or miss on handwritten thank you notes. My excuse is that I have terrible handwriting, (I'm left handed but write right handed), but really it's about laziness. Doing a good note takes time and effort. Just like aspiring to excellence in your career requires extra time and effort.

I tend to fall back to sending email. That seems to be acceptable. The gift or kindness does not go ignored. I can send an email in about 20 seconds and, using my illegible handwriting as an excuse, I convince myself it's OK. Then I start thinking about the times, like after each of my parent's funerals, where the handwritten notes I received made such an impact on me. Before I lost my dad, I never was one to send flowers or attend funerals. I hit a lot of them these days. The difference is that I know what the comfort and support of friends feels like.

It could be that people on the bottom rung of the business ladder just don't think to say "Please" and "Thank you." The concept of saying Thank you" was first beat into my head by my parents and, later, by my first sales manager. If you grew up in a household where no one ever said "Please" or "Thank you," you are less likely to do it yourself.

And, according to my informal survey, you are less likely to make it to the top.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is one of the world's leading authorities in helping people deal with "Big Money" issues. McNay is an award winning, syndicated financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. You can read more about Don at McNay founded McNay Settlement Group, a structured settlement and financial consulting firm, in 1983 and Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC in 2000. You can read more about both at McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni. McNay has written two books. Most recent is Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win The Lottery. McNay is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.