Effective leaders live a life of gratitude. Gratitude is a virtue that shapes our mental attitude and positions us to give bountifully and receive openly as we encounter life. This virtue is fostered as we savor the gifts around us and within us. Gratitude is about noticing life in its many dimensions and seeing the wonder in every situation, knowing and acknowledging that we are the beneficiaries of some one’s graciousness. Leaders must embrace this trait.
Robert Emmons, a student and researcher of this topic, points out that people of gratitude recognize that they did not get to where they are, on their own. If we take all the credit for the good things that have happened to us, it is very hard to be grateful. Gratitude is about remembering that we are inter-dependant beings who rely on the good will of others for our success in life. Grateful leaders recognize that parents, teachers, employees, colleagues, spiritual guides and others, have all contributed to their formation.
Gratitude enables great leaders to see and think beyond themselves. Recognizing that they have received handsomely from others, grateful leaders are eager to give back, as they encourage, empower, and believe in others. To be truly grateful is to shed our attitude of entitlement. Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, theologian, musician and scientist said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us”.
Gratitude is a lens for uncovering the beauty in life. When things go well, gratitude helps us to savor and enjoy them. When events go poorly, gratitude helps us to get over difficult situations more quickly. A grateful heart transports us to the depth of ourselves, enabling us to use the experience for growth and transformation.
One leader tells of his active application of the gratitude principle as he sought to reconnect with an old colleague from whom he had been estranged for twenty-five years. They were both strong leaders who butted heads on many occassions. When he met this person many years later he began the conversation by sharing his gratefulness for the difficult experience that pervaded their relationship. This appreciative attitude helped these leaders go beyond themselves and put their differences behind them.
Melonie Beattie, an addictions counselor and author, points out that gratitude “unlocks the fullness of life and turns what we have into enough and more.” Peering through the lens of gratitude, Melonie found the ‘more’ that existed beyond the difficult encounter with her client. This leadership trait enabled a new possibility for their relationship.
There are those who make the assumption that gratitude renders us passive and less autonomous when confronted with difficult situations. However, research does not support this notion. We must not confuse gratitude with denial. Being grateful does not mean that we circumvent sadness, anger, frustration, grief, mourning and all the feelings that surround difficult experiences. Rather, gratitude enables us to use the experience for growth, as we move through, and get beyond the difficult feelings.
Gratitude is a choice. Albert Schweitzer instructs us to educate ourselves for the feeling of gratitude. Robert Emmons teaches his students to pay attention to what they are grateful for by having them keep a daily gratitude journal. This he says, helps them to “think about things a little differently” than they had before. This discipline gives aspiring leaders the creative edge to move through the ups and downs of life; exploring possible responses that would have otherwise eluded them.
Leaders who live a life of gratitude infect their workplaces with goodness. Gratitude does not exist alone. It is the foundation stone for hope, optimism and joy. To live fully, we must all learn the secret of gratitude says Schweitzer. “It is more than just a so-called virtue. It is revealed … as a mysterious law of existence. In obedience to it we have to fulfill our destiny”.