Chief Executive Officer
Our Attitude of Gratitude
Why showing appreciation to colleagues takes on a whole new meaning during the lingering pandemic, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.
Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.
To sod or to seed—that is the question.
Years ago, when we bought our first house, we put in a new lawn. Even though I had no idea how, I decided to do it myself: clearing out the weeds, putting in pipes and sprinklers, spreading fertilizer and grass seed, then watering every day.
Each morning, as I left for work, I’d look at that barren dirt and wonder if anything was ever going to happen. Day after day, I was bummed out. But as is true with so many things, even when it looks like there isn’t much progress externally, a lot of progress is happening below the surface. And then I saw it.
One morning, as I drove out of the driveway, I noticed something. I got out of the car, leaned over, and—sure enough—there were the first tiny green inklings. The next morning, more green shoots. Then, before long, we had a lush lawn. Just looking at it gave me a feeling of accomplishment and achievement.
Flash forward several years when we moved into another house. This time I wasn’t going to go through the impatient agony of waiting for the seed, so I invested in sod. It was heavy for me to roll out, but it was quick. By the afternoon—voila—I had a brand-new lawn.
Then I went outside the next morning. Instead of entering Shangri-La, I encountered a muddy mess. Our dog had dug up at least a quarter of that sod. Those big puppy eyes gave me a cynical look as if to say, “You should have known better than to take a shortcut.”
Lesson learned. Sod is instant gratification. Seed is an investment over time. And sowing seed is exactly what we should all be doing these days to make sure our grass is greener—or else risk losing the people who helped get us here. That seed is appreciation.
An executive shared a story with me the other day of her 92-year-old grandfather who made it a habit to deliver a heartfelt message to everyone who made a difference in his life—whether family members, friends, or someone who served him at the local diner: “Did anyone tell you how great you are today?”
“I’ve heard this line thousands of times,” the executive told me. “Yet it still snaps me out of whatever mindset I am in and humbles me into a simpler state of mind—of being loved and seen.”
People everywhere hunger to be seen, to feel valued, especially now. They want to be noticed and acknowledged. Who would disagree with that? But, if we’re honest, the challenge for some leaders is the big disconnect—the broken bridge between knowing and doing.
“That’s a challenge, especially for leaders who often are extremely high-performers and tend to be less dependent themselves on appreciative feedback,” Albertina Vaughn, who leads our North America Leadership & Professional Development Solutions, told me this week. “It’s important to be self-aware—and more conscious of showing appreciation to others, frequently and authentically.”
It’s not that managers and bosses don’t care, or that they’re not nice people. All too often, though, the pace of play and the volume of activity get in the way. And that’s true at every level and in every position. However, not recognizing, rewarding, and celebrating others carries a high cost—weaker bonds within the organization. Everyone suffers. “When an emotional connection is missing, people may begin to deliver not only what needs to get done, but also may not tap any discretionary energy left in the tank,” Ron Porter, a leader in our Global Human Resources practice, told me. “And that also makes it easier for them to walk out the door.”
It’s the secret to sustainable success: when people are recognized, they’re happy; and when they’re happy, they’re motivated. And if they’re motivated, they’re more likely to stay—and outperform. Here are some thoughts.
Even though many of us are still isolated, we have to overcome making it isolating. We each yearn to be part of something bigger than ourselves—we all want to be valued, to be appreciated, to be recognized. We want to be that seed that becomes part of a gorgeous green pasture. If we don’t know what to say, try this with sincerity: “Did anyone tell you how great you are today?”