I was part of a CEO panel recently and was asked to answer the question, “What is the most important trait for a leader to possess?” My answer was humility, but if I could go back, I would change my answer to gratefulness. As we prepare for Thanksgiving this week, I find myself revisiting the impact that gratefulness (or the lack of it) has on my life and the lives of those I am blessed to serve.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is free of the pressure and expectations that come with Christmas. I love preparing and cooking my family’s traditional meal. Mostly though, I love having a day that is dedicated to being grateful and expressing thanks. Gratefulness is a significant component of my recovery and the genesis of much of my joy.
Gratefulness, or gratitude, is an affirmation of the goodness in one’s life and the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie, at least partially, outside of self. Affirmation and recognition. We first recognize that the good we experience is a gift (life doesn’t owe you anything), and then we affirm this gift through actions.
Several things can get in the way of gratefulness: a sense of entitlement (“I deserve”), a compulsive need to be self-reliant (“I did it all myself”), a bias toward negativity (“There’s so much wrong in the world”), and forgetfulness and the busyness of daily life.
Privilege without gratitude leads to entitlement. When I am not grateful for what I receive, I start to believe that I deserve it. This creates unrealistic expectations that will often go unmet and will generate resentment. We can be swimming in blessings and be unhappy and dissatisfied. In this state, even if we receive more, we will still not be happy.
We have all met the “self-made man.” This person uses “I” statements exclusively and takes credit for the accomplishments that involved others. Continually disregarding those who contribute to our overall success erodes relational power, requiring a leader to increasingly rely on positional power. Ultimately, this leads to failure for both the leader and the team.
The question we should be asking is not, “What’s wrong?” We should be asking, “What’s good; what’s working?” When we focus on the negatives, we find more and more to be unhappy about. Leaders are designed to find problems. Being positive is not ignoring problems; it is seeing problems as opportunities.
Ultimately, we must practice being grateful. When we are overworked, over-scheduled, and over-busy, it is hard to remember to keep up our gratitude habits. These habits can vary widely from person to person, but here are my favorites:
A gratefulness list. Journaling is a wonderful tool for memory enhancement, mental processing, and future reference. Make a list every day (or at least once a week) of the things you are thankful for. Start with the smallest things and record specific details. When you are struggling to be positive, go back and read your lists.
Say thank you. People do things for us every day. Often, what they are doing is their job, but that doesn’t excuse us from being grateful. I’ve started asking the name of the person serving me at a restaurant and then thanking them by name each time they serve me. The simplest forms of vocalizing our gratitude can increase our awareness of the ways people bless us.
Look for the best in everyone. Don’t let others’ negativity, or any other outward circumstance, control your internal condition. I have no control over other people, but I do control my response to them. Giving others grace and thinking and saying the best about them improves my attitude and increases my internal peace.
Build gratitude. Be a generous giver and a gracious receiver. The more we give of our time, talent, and treasure, the more we are grateful for the things others do for us. We also need to be good at receiving the things others give to us. Accepting compliments and the help people give us with humility and grace improves our gratitude.
It is my hope that you can be with friends and family this week to celebrate the blessings of life and liberty. While it is ironic that we observe this day by overeating, I also hope you have a full table on Thursday—full of food that is meaningful to you and full of people you love. Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and it is The Kimray Way.