Grace and Gratitude

People want and deserve to be gratified by their work, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.

When I was a kid, this time of year meant going to the Elks Lodge in our town for a holiday dinner. It was a big deal. My uncle, who worked in an oil refinery, and my aunt, who was a nurse at the town hospital, would take us. We wore our “Sunday best”—my uncle with his dark green one-piece jumpsuit (which, for some reason, had a belt) and his white leather dress shoes. I’d sit there with my aunt and uncle, surrounded by neighbors, in a room decked out with twinkling lights.

It was all about relationships and just being together—that was our real abundance.

As we look back over years past, we see what matters most and what makes us truly grateful. Indeed, Thanksgiving can really help put things in perspective.

I received a call this week from a friend. Despite our lighthearted conversation and laughs, as my friend spoke, I just knew something was off. I could hear it in his voice. “We’ve been friends for too long. What’s really going on?”

My friend paused, then let out a sigh. What followed was the same litany we’re all hearing these days: disconnected, isolated, long days that feel the same, and restlessness.

For many people, the connective tissue is fraying. Some lack the relationships they yearn for, others long for a listening ear. And for some, it’s simply about having that shoulder to lean on.

It’s what we all need to have—and who we strive to be for each other. And that’s our saving grace. It really does come down to gratitude for the people in our lives. Their inspiration should be our aspiration!

People want and deserve to be gratified by their work. They want to know that others notice and are grateful for them.

And so, as we start to look back on this year, even with continuing change and challenge, there is much to be grateful for—as long as we have the grace to recognize and appreciate it. Here are some thoughts for our gratitude list:

· Have we told everyone how great they are? Gratitude is timeless and has no expiration date. I’ll never forget the story an executive shared with me a few months ago—about 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 he was speaking to family members and friends, or someone who served him at the local diner, he always said, “Did anyone tell you how great you are today?” Reflecting on her grandfather’s words, which she’d heard thousands of times, the executive told me, “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.” 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 feel part of something bigger than themselves. Indeed, gratitude makes all the difference.

· Our helping hands. I was sitting on a curb along a highway in Oklahoma not long ago. It was one of just a few trips I’ve taken in almost a year and a half, and I was driving a rental car along an unfamiliar road. Cell phone reception was sketchy, so with a conference call coming up, I pulled to the shoulder and found a place where the signal was strong. That’s when another vehicle pulled up. “Do you need help?” the driver and passenger asked me. With sincere thanks, I assured them I was fine. The whole interaction took only a few minutes, but I will never forget it. Even now, looking back, I feel so much gratitude for two strangers who selflessly reached out—with a helping hand. And this is what we constantly need to offer others—wherever, however, and anywhere we can.

· The true treasure. An attitude of gratitude starts with two small but extremely powerful words that translate in every language: thank you. It’s a gift that goes both ways. As we express our thanks, we are uplifted—often as much as the person being appreciated. We can never say “I believe in you” too often. I see you. I value you. You matter. You make a difference…. When people are told, “We couldn’t have done this without you,” the message delivered is, “You are loved.” It’s like a spark that ignites as others respond. Moods shift and positivity elevates everyone. At a time when we need to lead with heart, what more is there to say? Indeed, genuine gratitude is one of life’s most precious treasures.

· Love home. Love and leadership aren’t normally put together in the same sentence (for obvious reasons). But leading others really is a matter of heart—whether we lead five people or 5,000 or even 50,000, or only ourselves. I was reminded of this earlier this year by one of our longest tenured colleagues, who often ends his conversations with “Love home.” It’s his unique shorthand for good wishes to the person and their family or loved ones. When asked about this tagline, our colleague responded, “It’s endemic to my soul. It feels more natural to say instead of just ‘good-bye.’” It makes perfect sense while so many of us have been working at home—bringing our families, our partners, and our loved ones along with us. They are a bigger part of what we do than ever before.

· A recipe for gratitude. At Thanksgiving, as the year-end approaches, let’s strive to help others raise their sights. There is much that we all can do. It starts with reflecting on who we are and who we want to be.

o   Do I spend the time making sure someone feels better after an interaction with me versus how they felt before?

o   Is there daylight between my words and my actions?

o   How do I provide meaning to others?

o   Do I just assume people know I appreciate them, or do I actually take the time to tell them?

Two of the most powerful words anyone can say are, “Thank you.” So easy to say, but so often overlooked. To all our colleagues, clients, friends, and those we are meeting along the way, I wish you an abundance of joy, love, and grace. And to those of you in the U.S., an early and heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving. May we each have the grace to be grateful—for others.