Thanksgiving Improves Your Leadership Style

After our diversion for an intensive 4-part deep dive into improving employee safety and workplace conditions, it’s back to observing everyday happenings in our lives that reveal nuggets of business improvement ideas. We’ve entered the traditional holiday season and the first “gateway” for most of us is Thanksgiving. We all have so many different ways of celebrating but for most everyone there are moments of quiet reflection on things we are truly thankful for in our lives (don’t worry—I’m not about to launch into my own personal list of “I’m thankful for…”). This feeling of introspection and thankfulness often continues through New Year’s, possibly informing our New Year’s resolutions, but then by mid-January we’re back in our normal routine and much of what we considered and promised over the previous month or two fades away. I get it…this is a normal human behavior…everybody does it to some extent.

I know you’re not reading my articles looking for touchy-feely self-improvement type advice. There are better scholars and tons of written material about thankfulness and gratefulness out there…in fact the Washington Post just published a book review https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-benefits–and-limits–of-todays-gratitude-movement/2018/11/21/876e57f4-ec32-11e8-baac-2a674e91502b_story.html?utm_term=.72880d4422c2 that details a number of number of books such as: Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s “Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy” (Moody Publishers); “A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life” (Hachette);  “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks” (HarperOne); Janice Kaplan’s  “The Gratitude Diaries” (Penguin); “The Ideal Made Real,” by American mystic Christian D. Larson; and “Good Days Start With Gratitude: A 52 Week Guide To Cultivate An Attitude Of Gratitude.” These would be much better for you if self-improvement is your goal. But if becoming a better leader and manager is what you’re here for—then please keep reading below.

There is a self-awareness gene in leaders that needs to be activated…an understanding that there is probably a hole in their leadership style that has a lot to do with thankfulness. Or more accurately a general lack of thankfulness. So today we’ll cover how a commitment to improving our soft skills surrounding thankfulness will lead to better engagement with your team and a clear path to business improvement.

There are certain companies led by famous CEO/Founders that produce great or cutting-edge products or seem to be transformational in their approach (think Steve Jobs or Elon Musk). These are brilliant people of course, but hardly ever do we hear of these types of executives as great leaders. We hear about specific pieces of their managerial style. They are smart, driven, innovative, hard-charging, etc., and have extremely high expectations of their employees and business partners. These are admirable traits, and of course nobody wants to be known for the converse traits (well he or she was not very bright, kind of lazy, old-fashioned, ok with the status quo…ouch!) …but very rarely however do we get a “yet” or “and” added to those descriptors. It’s never driven and compassionate, or hard-charging yet great at mentoring/coaching, etc. You get the idea.

There are other iconic “brands” of leadership where the descriptors of these leaders include plenty of seeming contradictions. Think of Jack Welsh, Abe Lincoln, Vince Lombardi, Eleanor Roosevelt or others often held up as models of leadership.  Each of these individuals could be described by every positive trait mentioned in the previous paragraph. The contrast here is that they also would be described as caring, compassionate, inclusive, team-oriented, emotionally intelligent people. The most famous and confounding example is Vince Lombardi. Disclaimer alert—I grew up as an unabashed Chicago Bears fan so writing positive things about anything Green Bay Packers hurts me to my core—but here we go. Most people only think of Lombardi as hard-nosed, driven, yelling from the sideline, stating “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” What many don’t realize is how he often addressed the team about love (his love for his players and how love and trust between players was critical to team success). He actually was an accomplished and extremely patient teacher (it was actually his career choice before football took over) which was a huge piece of the Packers success. He taught and trained and drilled the team until every single player knew his exact role and how that role related to every other player. This combination of hard-nosed, driven, high-expectation tension along with love, compassion, learning and teaching, is what makes Lombardi a true icon and a model of leadership. Again…this combination of descriptors is typical when we think of great leaders.

This may not be so natural for most of us, so we need to work on this other, softer, more thankful side in order to be truly effective. It’s likely you already possess many of the harder-charging traits…it’s probably what moved you along into a position of leadership. But in order to make that leap from an effective leader up to a great one, you’ll need to activate that self-awareness gene and get working on improving those softer skills. And a truly excellent way to get started along this path is to incorporate thankfulness into your daily and weekly business routine. Make thankfulness “standard work.”

You have employees, peers, mentors, customers, suppliers, consultants, board members, bosses, and family members, who all contribute to your success. Carve out some scheduled time, preferably daily but worst case weekly, to reflect on all of these people who do things to support you in ways large and small. Write these things down and make sure to include their names. These can be very small (an employee who actually listened to you and picked up some debris off the floor making things safer for all, or a customer who treated one of your employees nicely, or a spouse who picked up your laundry from the dry cleaners, etc.) or of greater significance (a customer who always pays on time, a vendor with a spotless JIT delivery record, a board member who provides non-judgmental advice and consent, a task force team that delivered exceptional results, an employee with a great safety record, etc.). Then seek these people out and either personally thank them, write them a thank you note, or thank them publicly with an award or mention in a publication.

This only has to take up 1-2 hours per week maximum, but the effect it will have on your stakeholders will be immense. And more importantly this will slowly begin to mold and change your leadership behavior. You’ll be on the look-out for more positive behaviors, recognizing the small and large things everyone connected to your organization does to help improve your business ecosystem. Although you’ll retain all of the drive and intensity that became your foundation for leadership, you’ll be adding that critical “and” to how people describe your style and capabilities. And your stakeholders will feel a greater connection to you and the organization, a sense that their efforts are recognized and that they are a critical member of the team. This sense of worth and belonging, of being recognized and appreciated, is what every job satisfaction survey tells us is the most direct link to job satisfaction for every level of employee—much more significant than salary, benefits, work hours, etc.

Of course, this will make you feel better, but I will leave it to the self-improvement and psychology experts to speak to that subject. What I’m interested in is to help you be a better leader and drive improvement in your organization. People want to be led by individuals who exhibit these “and” traits, where all of their leaders smart/driven/intense characteristics are balanced by including compassion, recognition, interest in others development, and thankfulness as part of their leadership style.

Invest in your people and invest in making thankfulness an integral part of your daily/weekly management routine. Invest in your own training and development to harness and build these new behaviors, while communicating them throughout the entire organization. You’ll get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees as a result, and they’ll have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

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