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Leadership 101: An Attitude of Gratitude

In our second edition of Leadership 101, we will dive into the importance of gratitude as a leader.

Yesterday, my family had the opportunity to spend the day at the beach. I always find being near water gives me a sense of calm and a chance to reflect what I am thankful for. It was a testament to something a counselor once shared with me, “Don’t be so busy ‘doing,’ that you forget to just ‘be.’ “

As I reflect on gratitude in leadership, across the globe, I’ve had numerous conversations with peers and individuals in areas of the world that are being impacted by Covid and unrest. Amid so many stories of hardship, I continue to hear the unexpected. Time and again, our colleagues and my peers speak of thankfulness and gratitude. This is not to minimize the ongoing suffering that takes an unbearable toll in human terms. But as I heard everywhere, an attitude of gratitude lifts our hearts and elevates our spirits.

It starts with two small but extremely powerful words that translate in every language: thank you. When we sincerely give our thanks—telling others, “We appreciate you”—the message delivered is, “You are loved.” And it’s a gift that goes both ways. As we express our thanks as leaders, we are uplifted—often as much as the person being appreciated. Indeed, true gratitude is one of life’s most precious treasures.

Here are some thoughts:

  • The gift we never return. We’ve all had this experience: giving someone a gift and waiting for the wrapping paper to be removed and the box opened. Nervous and a little uncertain, and even to hedge our bets, we whisper when no one’s listening, “There’s a gift receipt at the bottom if you want to take it back.” Not so with the gift of pure, unadulterated appreciation. There are no receipts, no strings attached. This is not layaway for some future obligation. It’s all gratitude. People should not need to read the tea leaves in an email or a text—anxiously interpreting the emoji or discerning the meaning of a period after “thank you” instead of an exclamation point. When we are truly thankful, there should be no doubt about it. Others can feel it, in our words and in our actions. This gift never gets returned.

  • Class is always in session. We never really get out of school. Think about it—we still want to be liked, to be accepted, to get picked for the team, to be appreciated. And there are other lessons from school that continue to make an impact—as I read an excerpt from Jane Stevenson, Global Leader at Korn Ferry - In her first professional job, many years ago, Jane was an elementary school teacher. A supervisory teacher told her: “Just because a child sits down when you tell them to, that doesn’t mean they are sitting down in their minds. It’s the teacher’s job to help them make that choice.” As Jane related this story, it occurred to me that it’s the same in the workplace today. And the key to unlocking motivation and discretionary energy is expressing gratitude for what people do. The lesson: leadership truly is a matter of the heart—and we always need to be learning the language of appreciation.

  • Our attitude is always our altitude. When one person says thank you, it can set off a positive chain reaction. The reason lies in emotional intelligence (EI). Daniel Goleman, who has done extensive research and writing on EI, has explained that when we develop and express our EI, we transmit more positive feelings such as gratitude than negative ones. It’s like a spark that ignites as others respond. Moods shift and positivity elevates everyone. Then our attitudes truly become our altitude.

  • The power of one. Edward Everett Hale once said I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. Over the past year, these words have taken on so much meaning about the importance of one. No matter how powerless we may feel, no matter how big the problems in the world, we can still do that “something” that we all can do. We can show genuine caring and gratitude.

As this week came to a close, I reflected on this year and the months to come and I am reminded “Everything will be OK" because there is always something to be grateful for.

Sources Cited:

Korn Ferry, Special Edition from the CEO: Gratitude.

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