“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” –William Arthur Ward
Recently, I was speaking with a leader who produces millions of dollars of revenue each year through his organization. He employs over 80 people, and his company creates an amazing product. In gratitude, he would give his team a lot of love at Christmas – a big company party, lots of food, gift cards, iPads, entertainment, trips. He really wanted to make it special for all of them. At that moment, I could sense that he was discouraged. As he looked me in the eye, he said in a low voice that this year he was not going to have an end-of-the-year Christmas party for his people. He felt his efforts were unappreciated and taken for granted.
I could tell making this decision was hard for him. His body language told me that he was struggling with the decision. He explained that over the years, his team had developed what could be described as a sense of entitlement, and he no longer believed they recognized the gifts as a show of gratitude. Maybe the expensive gifts were not worth the investment after all. By not throwing the expensive party, he was hoping that the team would no longer just expect it simply because they were employed there.
Have you experienced the feeling of not being appreciated? Most leaders have. It's not something many leaders can admit to. Maybe you did something nice only to be misunderstood and told you were unfair or playing favorites. It feels terrible and may even make you question why you tried to be nice. The temptation is to get upset, withdraw and vow to never give again. Our society does not promote gratefulness and being thankful or appreciative of what we have. Deep in our hearts, I think most people know it’s important to show gratitude, but because it’s not required and it takes effort, we tend to let the practice slide away.
Feeling “entitled” seems to be a popular trend, and most people who feel that way are unaware of it. But I believe there is a better way to overcome the lack of gratitude. Part of our role as leaders is to help the team learn and develop. Studies show that people can intentionally improve gratitude—and there are some important benefits to doing so. Expressing gratitude leads to more happiness, less stress and can prevent depression.
A few years ago, I started doing a gratitude exercise with our team. We will, at times, just list things we are grateful to have. Good health, having a job, having uniforms, paid leave, lunches on football game week, equipment to use, paved parking lots, staff lockers, steady budgets, steady paychecks, a future retirement, a beautiful environment to work in, mostly happy customers, teammates, family, faith, good mental health and the list goes on.
This visible list is posted on the wall for a few days, which allows us to see how much we have. At times, we may have someone who is from another country or who has traveled out of the United States visit, and I ask them to give some perspective on what we have here. It gets real when people start sharing how many opportunities we have here – the great facilities, stores, food supply, restaurants. My role during this exercise is not to preach gratitude but to help our team discover it on their own. Plant the seed of gratitude, water it and let it grow.
Another exercise I do is to provide blank cards and envelopes for everyone and ask them to write a thank-you note to someone who has meant something to them in the last year. Of course, I give examples to help get past writer's block. Often, these cards are written to other team members. It has a special meaning for both the person who receives it and the person who wrote it.
As a leader and horticulturist, I encourage you to plant what you want to see more of. If you want delicious apples, plant apple trees. If you want gratitude and less complaining, plant good seeds to grow those values. If you don’t plant anything, nature will not allow a void; it will grow weeds. Weeds breed and cover up your attempts to grow good plants. Don’t just expect your front-line teams to show gratitude to you because you will be disappointed. But, as the leader, you can help them grow into the practice. The return on that investment is huge.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” –Melody Beattie, author