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Thanks Giving, Gratitude

| November 25, 2014

by Jim Bruce

This week, at least in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, traditionally a day of giving thanks for the harvest (that provides our food) and for the preceding year. History suggests that this celebration goes back in the United States at least to a 1621 feast in the Plymouth Colony celebrating a good harvest in the Colony’s first year.  This tradition, with both civil and religious roots, has continued and since 1941 has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

The concept of giving thanks or expressing gratitude seems to be timeless.  It is viewed as a prized human inclination permeating religious texts, teachings, and traditions in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths.  Going beyond religion, we find Cicero writing in 54 B.C. in Pro Plancio, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”  

So, what does this have to do with leadership and being a leader?  A lot.  Research has demonstrated that having gratitude as a reference point will shift your mindset. You will see whatever situation you find yourself in, in a way that can lessen panic, strengthen relationships, and reduce stress.  In addition, grateful people are typically happier, more optimistic, and less negative. And, healthier.  All of these qualities positively impact your leadership and your workplace.  

While there are many ways to develop your skill of showing gratitude, here are five that I think are particularly effective:

1.  Observe your world from a gratitude point-of-view.  You are likely to be amazed at the good things we have come to take for granted.

2.  To help you identify opportunities to express gratitude, keep a “gratitude journal.”  This might be a part of your daily reflection time.

3.  Express your gratitude.  When someone goes above and beyond, verbalize your appreciation.  In those “ancient days” when people wrote messages on paper and sent them by mail, one large paper company printed cards with a banner “You Made My Day” and a rainbow logo, and encouraged their staff to acknowledge colleagues who had been really helpful with a note.  More recently, a New York State ski resort has a “Snow Angel” program where guests and staff who observe someone performing an “act of kindness” can reward that individual with a translucent card containing an image of a Snow Angel as a token of thanks.  In both cases, these small tokens of appreciation have been well received, almost like getting a medal.  People are encouraged when their work is recognized.  

4.  Show respect to those around you.  Treat others with the same level of courtesy as you expect to receive:  smile, show kindness, exhibit patience, don’t interrupt, and listen.

5.  Don’t complain.  When you complain you reinforce a negative state of mind without offering a solution.  Instead, take a few deep breaths and focus on the positive.  Work to see if there is a positive side to the negative event you experienced.  

In a recent Leaders Program Reflection, Dave Harber, Director of Technology, Riverland Community College, wrote two paragraphs that express all this from a personal point-of-view:

“So how does this [showing gratitude] relate to our lives on campus?  Well, we all deal with our staff facing both work-related negative issues like virus attacks, patches that break LDAP/s authentication, and budget concerns, but they are also dealing with loved ones with medical issues, family disruptions, and personal budget issues.  Do we take the time to take a step back, put ourselves in their shoes, and try to help them find the opportunity that is often there to see those challenges from a positive perspective?  Do we express our appreciation to them for the work they do and the impact that makes for our students?  Finding that change in perspective that causes us to ‘see’ things through a different lens can make all the difference in the world about our attitude.

“Especially as we look towards Thanksgiving this week, one of my best ‘tools’ to help with finding that attitude is to search for what I am thankful for within the situation, whether it be that this person is still a part of my life, that people are patient with us as we troubleshoot the situation, etc.” 

So, do enjoy your Thanksgiving celebration this week.  No matter our circumstances, we do have much to be thankful for.  And, do work on your skill in showing gratitude.  It will be good for you, the work you do, and for all those around you.

.  .  .  .     jim