Our Moment

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains why it’s important that leaders make time to say thank you.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Take Control: The Career You Want, Where You Want.

People held back at first, waiting for someone else to speak. Then came a story… and another… and another. Each recollection—of helping others, caring for others—elevated into a crescendo. In that moment, we were inspired and transformed.

It should have been a somber occasion—it was a funeral for a friend, many years ago. But even now as I look back, I recall what a joyful celebration it was—of one person’s life. Although our friend was of modest means, when it came to the amazing reach of his good works, he was the richest of all!

And yet, as I recall that outpouring, one nagging thought remains. Had we told our friend how much we loved and admired him? Or had we waited, thinking there was always time to say something… until it was too late for him to hear it?

This brings to mind a story an executive shared with me a few weeks ago, of how he had wondered for years why we wait so long to pay tribute to others. Then, at age 70, he took a yearlong journey to visit 44 people in person; “everyone who made a significant difference in my life.”

There’s a message for all of us—particularly during this season of remembrance and gratitude, hope and renewal.

Too often, though, if we’re honest, it’s so easy to live in the next, and not in the now.  And that can be particularly challenging when the trick of the calendar known as New Year’s shifts our focus months ahead. It’s a litany of future promises, commitments, resolutions, intentions—the next three months, next six months….

But what about right now?

Are we so busy making a push that we neglect to pause—especially to reflect on those who mean the most?

Yes, there will be advancements and promotions, new titles and expanded roles, objectives met, and mountains climbed. But this time is all about expressing our appreciation and love for others—for who they are, not just simply what they do.

I’ll never forget a story told to me by Doug Klares, one of our firm’s leaders. He was at a convenience store when he picked up a slightly crumpled newsletter lying on the counter. Humble looking, with clip-art graphics, the newsletter was hardly something you’d expect to make a lasting impact. Then Doug started reading.

Name the six wealthiest people in the world. Name seven people who were honored as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Name the winners of the Super Bowl for the past five years. The Premier League champion for the past three years.

Doug couldn’t come up with more than a name or two—and that was precisely the point. Then came the epiphany from that newsletter.

Name a teacher who made an impact on your life. Name one friend who has always been there for you. Think of someone who inspired you to be better.

A lot easier to answer, isn’t it?

Remembering those who really matter is what makes this moment—and every moment—our moment.

There’s a leadership lesson here in all of this. It’s about time—that most precious of commodities. No one can make more of it. And we can’t go back to the past, to say what was left unsaid… to do what was left undone.

This calls to mind an old proverb—that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. But the second-best time is right now.

And so, we extend our special thanks to everyone, near and far. We remember those we knew long ago, honor those who are with us today, and eagerly await those we’ve yet to meet.

We hold them all in our hearts: clients and colleagues, family and friends. Those who reach out and connect with others, give of themselves, open their hearts to share, open their ears to listen, humble themselves to learn. In short, all those who touch our lives with their grace and gratitude, aspiration, and inspiration.

May you all have a wonderful holiday season and look forward with hope to the New Year.