Blog Post

Gratitude’s Role in Leadership

Okay, Fine.  I’m Thankful For…

As we approach Thanksgiving, I thought, “Well, it’s that time of year again.” We’re supposed to think about those things we’re thankful for so we can be prepared when Grandpa Joe repeats the tradition around the Thanksgiving table. We’ve all been there before, haven’t we? Personally, I’m thankful that this year we’re planning to eat an hour earlier so we can get back to the football games. But I started to also ponder gratitude’s role in leadership. And through that leadership-mindset lens, I suppose if I paused and thought about it, there would be plenty of things I could share at the table.

For instance, I recently experienced the loss of parents. Both my mom and step-mom passed away, within a week of each other.  No, I’m not thankful for that. Those of you who have shared this loss know it is a grievous experience. But as I reflected on my time with them, it brought to mind the many reasons I’m grateful for the part they played in my life.  While the loss was saddening, my gratitude actually brought me joy.

Responsibility? I’m Sounding Like Mom!

This reflection reminded me that we always have a choice in what we focus on. I could have easily dwelled on the proverbial “pain and suffering” I experienced as a teenager, “shackled” by my Mom’s strict standards. Or how judgmental she seemed when I introduced her to my (first) college girlfriend – go figure! But then, there were so many more reasons to celebrate the life we had together. After all, even though at the time it didn’t seem like it, Mom always had my best interest in mind.

One day long ago, it occurred to me, that we have a great opportunity to influence (lead) others when we make simple choices in our daily interactions as well.  We can choose to be frustrated by situations and annoyed by people, or we can be intentional about seeing the best in our circumstances.  I’m not talking about a Pollyanna positivity.  I’m talking about being sincerely grateful.  The bottom line is, we find what we’re in search of. If we’re looking for what’s wrong, it will be easy to spot. Likewise, if we’re looking for what’s right, or seeking the best in people and ourselves, that’s easy to find as well.

With all the negativity, criticism, divisiveness and violence in the world today, wouldn’t we all be better served by looking for the best in people and situations?  If we truly found gratitude in our situations and in each person we encounter, wouldn’t that change things? Couldn’t that positively influence others? The answer is yes, of course, but it has to start with each of us being mindful of what matters.

Thankful for Mom’s Strong Advice

So, to take responsibility, let’s try these things that I learned from Mom:

  • Create a Gratitude Journal.
    • Sure, you’ve probably heard this before, but have you done it?  I suggest this to many of the leaders I coach.  Purposely identifying things we’re grateful for changes our mindset and outlook toward people.  Make your level-best effort for daily entries.
  • Tell someone why you appreciate them (not just that you appreciate them).
  • Be curious. 
    • Reach out to someone different than you and ask questions till you find reasons to appreciate them.  
  • Catch yourself complaining.
    • Nobody likes a whiner, so don’t be one.  Enlist an accountability partner to help you reduce your negativity and find reasons to be grateful.
  • Attend classes or workshops to help increase your propensity for inclusion. 
    • Yes, Mom was definitely a proponent of inclusion and lifelong learning. You may have taken part in one of Leadership Excelleration’s Cultural Intelligence and Inclusion seminars. If not, learn more about the approach here and here.

So remember, we find what we’re looking for. So if you share the tradition of expressing things you’re thankful for, take some time in advance to truly recognize how grateful you are.

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