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Work Life Lead: The Tree of Gratitude

Tree of GratitudeSeveral weeks ago, I began this series of columns discussing stewardship and gratitude. With this column, we come to the end of this series, but not to the importance of either. As each of us seeks to understand the thoughts and emotions that reside in our minds and hearts, we discover new areas of richness that we were unaware of, or at least had a glimpse of.  This is certainly true of both the concepts of stewardship and gratitude.

Stewardship is the practice of responsibility for the arenas we touch with our lives and work. Gratitude, as I have come to see, has a much greater depth of meaning and strategic value that I realized before starting this series. I am grateful to Peter Mello and the Weekly Leader community for the opportunity to explore these ideas over the past few weeks.

The Five Actions of Gratitude are not simply actions. Just things we can do. They are a way we can strategically organize our life and work.

In many respects, the Five Actions – Say Thanks, Give Back, Make Welcome, Honor Others and Create Goodness – are responses to people and situations we encounter. These become more significant and impactful the more the ground for our response is conducive to our actions.

Let’s use the image of a tree to explore this notion of a system.

The Tree of Gratitude

The Five Actions of Gratitude is an ecological system. Each action is related to the others, and they work best as a whole. Each action is nourished by the other.  As a tree, it needs strong roots in healthy soil to provide the resources needed to grow.  As you can see from this guide, the values that are the ground of gratitude are a set of values and behaviors that are expression of beauty and fruitfulness of the tree.  These seven values, and there could be many more,  create the environment for collaboration, and higher levels of communication and coordination in organizations.

How does one instill the values of creativity, kindness, goodness, service, open hospitality, respect and recognition in an organization. It begins with someone, presumably the senior leader, taking the initiative to put these values into practice. It isn’t just doing them as an individual, but also seeing that these are strategic tools for development.  In other words, someone has to care for the tree through the Five Actions of Gratitude.  This can be done in many ways. Many companies have operationalize creativity as an expectation of their employees. Many organizations have service days. Openness, respect and recognition are for many leaders important values that they bring to their relationships with staff.

Possibly, the most obscure of these values is kindness. We do not live in an age of kindness and gratitude. In my column The Gift of Gratitude, I pointed to Aristotle’s description of kindness

… as helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper themself, but for that of the person helped. Kindness is great if shown to one who is in great need, or who needs what is important and hard to get, or who needs it at an important and difficult crisis; or if the helper is the only, the first, or the chief person to give the help.

The competitive intensity, operational complexity, and the rapid pace of change creates an environment where it is quite difficult to be kind and grateful.  Yet, these are the values and practices that provide the ground for sustainability of our relationships, businesses and communities.  This one of the reason I see the practice of gratitude as subversive to conventional leadership and organizational practice

The challenge is not just appreciating or even practicing these values. The challenge is creating the social and organizational structures which nurture the creativity, openness, and goodness that produces leadership in people.Circle of Thanks As a result, to create organizations of kindness and gratitude requires us to look at how businesses are designed and organized.  In so doing, we find the source of positive change that prepares us for the opportunities that the future holds.

Where do I start?

There is no better place to start than to say thanks. Use my  Circle of Thanks guide to help you be as broad and diverse as possible in identifying the people and situations in your life and work for which you can be grateful.

Once you’ve created your list, you need to do something tangible with it. Send a note or make a phone call. Make a donation. Reach out someone new in the office. Take someone who has influenced you to lunch. The acts themselves are less important than the doing of them. The more you put your feelings of gratitude into action, the more easily you’ll see how to be more effective in your actions.

Don’t approach this exercise from a negative or critical point of view. It really doesn’t matter if you haven’t been grateful enough throughout your life. What matters is becoming so for the future. By appreciating what you have you begin to have a change of perspective about what matters in your family and business life.

Final Thoughts

It is my hope that these columns have provoked you to Say Thanks Every Day. I hope that you seek to be more grateful by recognizing the gifts that you have in your life and work.  If you have a story to tell or a question to ask, I’d love to hear from you.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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