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The Problem With Thanksgiving

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

thank you in different languagesMany who read this will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the coming days. While on different dates with different origins, many countries celebrate some sort of Thanksgiving during the year.

For those of us in the United States, this holiday has come to represent a chance for families to gather, eat too much, watch football, and perhaps prepare for Black Friday shopping. Oh yes, and to give thanks for our blessings.

I love my family, good food and football. And I am as blessed as anyone, so it is easy for me to be grateful on this day.

But that is the problem. Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks and raises our awareness of the things we are grateful for on one day. By designating a day, we are at some level saying this is the day to be thankful and show gratitude. Unstated for this designation is that for the other 364 days we can return to our regularly scheduled life, oblivious to the blessings, and ignoring the reasons to be grateful.

Research shows that consistently expressed gratitude has many positive benefits for us as individuals. And since this is a blog about leadership, these benefits are valuable from an organizational perspective as well. Here is just a small sampling of what research is teaching us about gratitude:

The Benefits of Gratitude

  • A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward the other person and felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. (Would you like more of those things at work?)
  • A comparison study found that those who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more regularly, reported fewer negative physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded negative or neutral life events. (Take note if you wish there was a better attitude in your workplace.)
  • Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — started their shift with a message from the director of annual giving, who told the fundraisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not. (How often do you tell your people you appreciate them and their work?)

While research is interesting, it isn’t really necessary. We instinctively know we feel better, have a better attitude, and are more focused and productive when we are aware and grateful.

So how can we as leaders help our team members and our organizational results with this knowledge?

Making it a Habit

Now you know why this is so important and that once a year doesn’t really cut it. Let’s close with an action plan for you as a leader and a human being.

Close meetings with gratitude. Before every meeting ends, ask each person to share one thing they are thankful for. It might start out slow, but give it a meeting or two. It will change group dynamics.

Say thank you more often. We learned it as a kid. Never is it more important to do this than when we are leading. Put five dimes in your left pocket at the start of the day. Move one to the right pocket each time you genuinely thank someone for something. If you aren’t doing this five times a day, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Write thank you notes. One per day, every day. Yes, email can be used, but the power of the written note is hard to top. Proof: How many of the handwritten notes of gratitude you’ve received do you have in a file somewhere?

While there are a lot of things we can do as individuals to create more gratitude in our lives, the short list above is meant to challenge you to insert the attitude and action of gratitude into your workplace. Take any of these actions and there will be huge personal and organizational benefits.  

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. But the problem is that it is just one day.

You can gain the good feelings and positive benefits of this day, every day, without the stuffed feeling of too much food. 

You are nodding in agreement; these are good ideas. Remember that you are the leader and these ideas won’t happen unless someone takes action. That’s your job.


Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

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