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Leadership and the Undeniable Power of Gratitude

Thanksgiving weekend begs for a discussion around gratitude. 

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Anyone who follows me on facebook knows that GRATITUDE is something I take very seriously. So much so, that I publicly post gratitudes at the end of most days (if I’m taking a social media break, I give myself permission to limit my gratitudes to the offline forum). This is a practice I started several years ago, mostly for my own benefit -- and, to my surprise, found that it landed powerfully for others. So I’ve kept it up. 

The thing about gratitude is that it’s a simple practice with powerful impact. In my world, it was Oprah who first turned me on to this approach. The idea is that expressing gratitude can help you to navigate even the most challenging of situations. My experience supports this claim.

There have been folks who have questioned my gratitude -- asking how I could be grateful EVERY day. Their questioning had an air of doubt about it -- which I understand. The doubt exists because there’s a bit of a myth that surrounds the concept of gratitude. The myth goes as follows: you can only truly be grateful for the good stuff, the brilliant stuff, the glorious stuff that you have or experience.  

Wrong. On so many levels, this is wrong. 

Gratitude isn’t about what’s working, or going well, or feeling easy. Gratitude isn’t simply about what you have or receive. Gratitude is not limited to the realm of what’s GOOD. 

Gratitude and the practice of expressing it is about EVERYTHING that’s happening in your life. Even when things are rough (dare I say, especially when things are rough).                                                      

Gratitude is about finding the nugget of gold in the muck of life’s challenges. And there’s a couple of ways to do this. To illustrate, I want you to imagine that you wake up feeling ill. You’re achy, congested, nauseous -- you know, all that less-than-fun stuff. What could you possibly have to be grateful for? 

Let’s begin with the easy stuff: you can be grateful for the bed you have in which to rest; you can be grateful for the soup or the tea that is able to soothe you; perhaps you have a friend or a family member who you can call for help. These are definitely things to be grateful for.  

Now, let’s stretch this gratitude muscle a bit -- can you be grateful for the feeling of illness itself?  Hear me out on this -- this is important. Because finding a way to be grateful for the illness is just as liberating as finding a way to be grateful for the trappings that surround the illness. You see, the feeling of illness is what actually allows you to know and appreciate health -- you can’t truly understand health if you haven’t been ill. And while no one WANTS to be ill, understanding the gift and perspective it provides is helpful. 

Let’s extrapolate this sort of paradigm to work or school. Whatever challenge you’re facing right now, what’s the gift that you get from it? What’s the perspective that it can illuminate for you, if you let it? And how can you stand in gratitude for that? 

We are taught that it’s hokey to be grateful for the “bad” stuff. But what if we can tweak our approach just a bit, acknowledge any and all challenges, and be grateful in spite of the challenge? My experience is that such a shift liberates us in ways we can’t imagine. 

Bottom-line: leading with an attitude of gratitude creates a workplace (indeed, it creates a LIFE) of possibility. Challenge yourself to be grateful and to express your gratitude in the face of any and all experiences. Hone this muscle as much as you hone any other. Because an attitude of gratitude will help you navigate any challenge with grace. And grace is a hallmark of effective leadership.