Guest Column: The power of gratitude

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A couple years ago I wrote a piece on simple leadership and in it I shared the three things that make up 80% of leadership: 1) being a person worth following; 2) building a great team; and 3) creating clarity of purpose, vision and values.

The first of these leadership traits is foundational to the other two. One of the aspects that makes one a person worth following naturally comes to mind at this time of year. That attribute is being grateful.

I’ve learned from many wise people over my years about the importance of being grateful. Many of us in West Michigan go to the Bible for wisdom and direction and there are dozens of passages that speak to the importance of having a grateful heart. I’ve learned that being grateful not only affects those that receive a person’s appreciation, but it also affects the person that feels and shows their gratitude. 

One of the better books I’ve read in the past 10 years is called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. One piece of wisdom that really stuck with me is that while most people think success will make them happy, Achor sees the reverse. He believes being happy makes people successful … and he shares data to back it up.

One of the key practices that Achor describes that can help you be happier is to regularly focus on the good things you have in your life — the classic wisdom of counting your blessings. If you struggle with having a negative outlook, doing this intentional and daily exercise can increase your happiness. If you take the time to really look around you, you can find dozens of reasons to be grateful.

If you do this naturally, I can almost guarantee that you’re a pretty happy person. If you don’t come to this naturally, being intentional about counting your blessings every day will increase your happiness, and if Achor is right, that will increase your level of success. I believe this practice changes your brain chemistry over time, which leads to greater peace, greater joy and greater success.

So those are some thoughts on the importance of being a grateful person as it relates to your own mental health and success. But how about the difference your gratitude makes to others.

I’ve come across several studies in my life describing the impact of someone being told they are appreciated. Some of the studies seem to suggest this is one of the most important things people can receive for their efforts. Most of us would think that money is the greatest motivator for performance and loyalty, but studies don’t show this, especially with the younger generation. More important things than money seem to be 1) feeling that your work matters to the world, 2) feeling appreciated for your efforts, 3) feeling in on things, and 4) feeling that you’re being given the resources you need to succeed.

I recently wrote about how to win the talent war that all organizations are facing. Feeling and showing sincere appreciation for people’s efforts is one of the best ways to win this figurative war.

One of the corporate leaders I admire the most is my friend Doug Conant. Doug is the author of a couple of books based on the leadership principles he used in his career. Doug’s leadership culminated as CEO of Campbell Soup Company from 2001 to 2011 when his team greatly increased the performance of the company.

One of the principles Doug is famous for is expressing appreciation to his people while also holding them to high standards. He’s likely most known and loved by his team for the short, handwritten notes he sent to so many over the years. If I’m remembering correctly, his team estimated he sent 30,000 handwritten notes through his career. 

I believe a couple of things about handwritten notes. One, writing one costs virtually nothing other than learning to see the good things people are doing and then taking five minutes to write what you saw. Two, I also believe these notes are so valuable that most people will never throw them away. I know I have a file of notes I’ve received, and my poor family likely will have to throw them away after I’m gone.

Having a spirit of gratitude serves you well and it serves your team well. During this special time of year, work on developing your ability to feel and express your gratitude. Then take it into 2023 as a regular leadership practice. It will help you be a person worth following and help West Michigan become the hotbed of the best leaders in the country!

Rodger Price is the founder and managing partner of Leading by DESIGN, an executive development firm in Grand Rapids.

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