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Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Lead with Gratitude

Inspire the Gift of Perspective, Potential and Productivity

Complaining is a dead-end road; it feeds depression and hopelessness. No one (even your therapist) wants to hear about how unfair you think things are or how life is stacked against you. Leaders who embrace and inspire gratitude don’t run to their bosses, human resources, or whoever will listen every time they encounter a problem. They gravitate toward people who, like themselves, are truly interested in and hopeful about fixing things and making their little corner of the workplace better. The next time you find yourself complaining or you find yourself participating in a dialogue where others are complaining, ask yourself (or be courageous and ask them),

What is the ROI here, what’s the return on investing in this discussion?

Is this conversation adding any value?

The Way Out

Want to know the fastest way out of being a complainer and feeling sorry for yourself? Gratitude. Gratitude stems from acknowledging that where we have arrived didn’t happen solely on our own. Do YOU take credit for all you have? Who among us is not “drinking from wells dug by others?” Yet, we live in a world that screams, “I owe nothing, but I have a right to everything!” And so we forget by taking what we have for granted and living as if the world owes us everything.

potter choicesAn ungrateful heart loves to complain and always sees what is wrong with the world. An ungrateful heart cynically makes nothing out of something. Gratitude, on the other hand, sees what is good and right with the world and usually finds something meaningful in nothing. Leaders who see their team through the lens of gratitude will always see the untapped potential in people and inspire them to achieve what cynics think is impossible. We’ve worked with the U.S. Marines for more than 20 years, and we are always inspired by their example. A motto the Marines live by is this,

The difficult we do immediately, the impossible just takes us a little longer!

How’s that for tapping potential and inspiring achievement and accomplishment! Perhaps more great things would happen if more leaders and their teams embraced this motto as well.

Without a doubt, gratitude fuels potential and transforms our perspective. When you are in awe of what you have, the immediate response is a deep sense of appreciation: “Whom do I repay?” “What does it mean to give back in life?” “How can I be a better steward of what I have?” These questions leave little room for envy, entitlement, or complaint. It’s hard to complain when we are truly thankful, but it’s hard to be thankful when we think we are entitled and take so much for granted. American philosopher Eric Hoffer said,

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.

So you didn’t rock the world today, maybe you just changed it slightly. Or, if you didn’t change it even slightly, at least it didn’t get worse.

We have been able to work with people in some of the most admired companies in the world. Yet, we are constantly amazed at how many people working in great companies complain about what they DON’T have. On more than one occasion we have felt compelled to say, “What you have in terms of culture is incredibly special. You better protect it and promote it with your life.” Sometimes we wished we could offer them a sabbatical and set them up in another work environment. After a year, we would send them back. Perhaps this would give them a deeper sense of appreciation for what they actually have. In reality, the grass is rarely greener.

Practice Being Grateful

Look, we are not big on funky exercises that promise a lot and deliver a little. But, if you want to become more grateful, tap potential, shift perspective, drive productivity up, and give complaining a permanent rest—try making a daily list of ten things for which you are grateful or try keeping a gratitude journal. Why not give gratitude journals to your team? The discipline of being grateful will have a powerful effect on you, your team, and your productivity. This daily discipline has the potential to radically transform your perspective about life and work. Whether you decide to work with a journal or a list, force yourself and your team to reflect upon the good in your life. When you make your entries, don’t forget to consider the pain and frustration you have avoided, as well as the blessings you have received. Commit to making your entries every day for the next 30 days.

Is there a compelling case to be made for doing this? Yes! In BOOM!, we noted that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are more alert, enthusiastic, energetic, attentive, and far more determined than those who focus on the hassles or neutral events in their lives. Those who replace bitterness and resentment with gratitude report higher levels of fulfillment, vitality, and optimism as well as lower levels of stress, frustration, and depression. They exercise more regularly, report fewer physical symptoms, and are more likely to live longer than the ungrateful. Does this sound like a key strategy for becoming more productive, developing a better perspective, and tapping into your true potential at work? We think so! And the good news is—it’s free!

The Power of Gratitude

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes another exercise that has life-changing potential. Seligman asked students in his Positive Psychology class at the University of Pennsylvania to select one important person from their past who had made a positive difference in their lives and whom they have never properly thanked. Each student was to bring this person to class and present a testimonial—just long enough to cover one laminated page—to the unsuspecting guest. Seligman called it “Gratitude Night”. You know what happened . . . People got choked up, and the fear of embarrassment gave way to tears of joy and appreciation as the students found a vehicle for expressing how thankful they were for those who meant the most to them. At the end of each presentation, the laminated version of the testimonial was given to the guest. Written evaluations at the end of Seligman’s class indicated that “Gratitude Night” was not only the high point of the class, but for many of the students and guests, one of the greatest nights of their lives.

Are you looking for a way to close out the year on a high or a way to start 2009 by celebrating and thanking people for their contributions? What’s keeping you from identifying several people at work and doing the same thing? What’s keeping you from initiating a monthly, quarterly, or bi-annual gratitude luncheon? If you move on this idea, Seligman suggests several criteria:

  1. Choose the person because of your deep-felt gratitude, not because of romance or an opportunity for future gain.
  2. Take your time (several weeks is not uncommon) and be thoughtful in the words you choose.
  3. Do it face-to-face. Writing a letter or making a call will not have as much impact.
  4. In making the appointment, do not tell the person what it is about, only that you want to meet.
  5. Give a laminated version of your testimonial as a gift.
  6. Let the recipient react without being rushed, then spend some time reminiscing about the significant events that brought you to this point.

Gratitude is a sign of wisdom and maturity, a hallmark of confident humility. Show us a corporate culture infused with gratitude and we will show you a culture of civility, compassion, and courtesy. It is a culture where people are not weighed down by the toxicity of complaining, a culture where people find the freedom to soar. We are so very grateful for our work with companies like Southwest Airlines, Sundance Resorts, Wells Fargo, and Ernst and Young. These are not just consulting or writing projects, nor are they just speeches or events; they are esteemed clients who have profoundly influenced us, they are role models of wise, mature, and gratitude-inspired cultures. All of these companies work deliberately and strategically at promoting and protecting a culture wherein gratitude is deeply rooted.

For many of us, gratitude does not come naturally; it must be cultivated. Forcing yourself to make a daily list of your blessings is essential to making this practice a habit. Will conducting a gratitude audit be easy? Hardly. But when you’re having an extremely difficult week, it is exactly what you need. When you feel like you’re in a dead-end job, your boss is dysfunctional, your colleagues are biding time, work is killing you, you’re frustrated and fed up; the last thing you’ll want to do is write down the things for which you are thankful. But that’s the point of developing this daily discipline. It teaches you to look for what IS working in your life and trains you to focus forward. It’s paradoxical. The very thing you need to do most to get out of a funk and stop complaining is the very thing you feel least like doing. This is why inspiring a spirit of gratitude must be based on a visceral decision of the will and not on a FEELING. Just do it! Give yourself, your family, and your colleagues the gift that will offer them a new lease on life for 2009 and beyond.