Leading with Gratitude

First, thanks to all of you who have visited and subscribed to my blog. You keep coming back so I keep writing. I reached 100 posts on February 18th because of your encouragement. I had other posts already so I waited until now to mention and celebrate that accomplishment. I also want to thank you for your patience with this post as it may ramble a bit. Gratitude is an important leader quality. Here are two ways you can show gratitude and humility.

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My mother taught me about the importance of being humble and grateful. Throughout life, I learned there are many things I do not know and cannot do well. I make mistakes just like everyone else. Frequently people apologize seeking forgiveness without really think about what they are asking.

For example, if you promise to arrive someplace by a certain time and encounter an accident. It causes you to be late. You could apologize for being tardy, or you could express gratitude to those you were going to meet for their patience and understanding. When you express gratitude in such situations, you acknowledge your error and you also acknowledge the other person was inconvenienced by your express of gratitude. By thanking the others, you apologize from a position of strength. There is something different about thanking someone for their understanding rather than seeking their forgiveness. It shows you are repentant and grateful.

I used this tactic in my opening paragraph. My life has been very busy the last two weeks. I lacked time to reflect on leadership lessons and write about what I learned. As a result, I have a much shorter post than normal and fail to delve deeply into a topic or lesson. I could apologize for failing to create a quality post, or I can take my best swing and write a shorter, quality post about an important leadership trait and use the post as an example of how to execute the practice. In doing so, I have less reason to seek forgiveness and more reason to express gratitude.

A further example happened recently. I had engaged in a conversation with a person about an issue I found upsetting. I reflected on the problem before the conversation to avoid saying stupid things. I succeeded in that respect but the conversation clearly communicated I was upset. I learned that things were not what I was led to believe. At the end of the conversation, I thanked the person for taking time to explain the situation and remaining a trusted teammate. Had I ended the conversation with an apology, it would have appeared I made the mistake. I lacked all the information required to understand the situation. I only received the missing information by talking to this person. I was grateful for their time. I was grateful for their honesty. I was grateful to learn what I was led to believe was not true. That means I should say, “Thanks,” not “Sorry”.

Gratitude is also important to recognize the good work and efforts of others. Continuing my example of business in the last two weeks, others had to fill in some gaps created because my attention was required else where. That required staff to do some extra work. Like many places of employment, our job descriptions include the phase, “and such other work as may be required.” That catch all phrase is not a bye for leaders to fail to acknowledge the extra work others perform when they are absent. As a leader, my attention was required outside my regular circle. It allowed me to move the organization forward in ways I could not had I not stepped outside my daily activities. Failing to recognize the efforts of those who filled the gaps in my absence is just bad leadership.

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Upon my return, I expressed appreciation to the staff that filled the voids created by my absence. They ensured the lights stayed on and the bills were paid as I prepared for the future. Challenging your people to step up in times of need allows them to develop while also allowing you as a leader to grow. You could not move forward personally, professionally, or with the organization if you did not have those people you count on to run the organization when you are gone. You should be grateful they are willing to do those extra things in your absence. I think it was Napoleon who said something like, “Men accomplish amazing feats of courage for a little patch of cloth.” By that he was referring to the little pieces of ribbon Soldiers wear on their uniforms instead of the medals hung by those ribbons. Medals and ribbons cost the organization little. It is not like giving someone a raise requiring a continued cost. Those little tokens of appreciation, the pats on the back, the recognition at staff meetings for a job well done encourage people to continue to put forth extra effort.

Gratitude is an important leadership trait. Reflect on all the things your people do everyday, often without your supervision. Think of the times others suffered, even just a little, because of a mistake you made. Be thankful they put up with you. Instead of apologizing, thank people for their patience and understanding. Take time to notice the amazing things people in your organization do everyday without prompting. What does it really cost to say, “Thank you” in front of their peers, or to recognize their good work with your peers? Nothing. While the investment is small, the dividends of showing gratitude are large. Remember to thank those who make your life as a leader easier.

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