Gratitude. Thankfulness. Appreciation.
All of these center around a common theme of taking time to stop and acknowledge the things we have, to reflect on the gifts, attributes, or good fortune bestowed upon us. This time of year, in particular, we’re encouraged to take stock of all the positive things in our lives. If we are grateful for what we have, we’re told we will be better leaders, better friends, better colleagues.
But what about stopping to acknowledge all that we don’t have? Or better yet, taking time to reflect on the things we lack, but potentially have the support to compensate?
We are prompted during this time of year to set aside time in order to reflect on the things we’re thankful for that we have.
Gratitude for our homes
Gratitude for our families and pets
Gratitude for our steady paychecks
But what about taking the time to appreciate the things we don’t have? And more than that, appreciating those who help us be our best selves in spite of those shortcomings?
Gratitude for the achievements we’ve yet to experience
Gratitude for the positions we’ve yet to fill
Gratitude for the opportunities to grow personally or professionally
I’ve been blessed in my life with mentors and teachers who believed in me – often more – than I believed in myself. As a professional singer, I had coaches who constantly reinforced in me the talent they saw, and worked with me to realize that talent on the stage. I know without those seminal figures in my career, I would have not achieved a fraction of the success I did; I am so very grateful for those people.
But I’m equally grateful for my shortcomings – for all the things I have lacked, and continue to lack, as those things have just as heavily shaped my path.
Those deficiencies forced me to evaluate where I was compared to where I wanted to be, and ultimately led to me seeking out support systems to achieve my artistic goals. That support system - the coaches, voice teachers, directors, conductors - the people who stepped up for me, was truly the highlight of my career as a performer. Had it not been for the things I “lacked,” I would never have had the opportunity to meet many of those people - the people who ultimately helped me develop further than I ever would have without them - and for that I’m truly grateful.
Gratitude is More Than an Attitude
When we think of gratitude, we often think of it as an act or expression – telling someone we appreciate them or taking a moment to be thankful for something in our own life. And yes, those are important moments to have. But gratitude doesn’t have to be an active expression, and it doesn’t have to be just a moment. It can also be a quality and a trait. Gratitude can be more than a mood or emotion and instead become part of who we are, and in doing so color our interactions with the world and the others around us.
If we think about gratitude only as an act, our ability to demonstrate thankfulness can feel overwhelming. But if we work to incorporate gratitude as an ever-present trait, then that gratitude can begin to permeate all of our interactions, including our leadership.
Take the Gratitude by the Horns: How do We Cultivate the Quality of Gratitude?
Self-identification and self-modification are the cornerstones of self-improvement. Before we can attempt to correct an action, we must first learn to identify it. And so cultivating gratitude starts with recognition; it starts with noticing the little things (or big things) that you feel gratitude or appreciation for.
Secondly, expressing feelings surrounding that which we identify. The small things, whether it is keeping a gratitude journal or making a point to verbalize your appreciation of your colleague completing a task, are the stepping stones that put us on a path to achieving gratitude as a quality.
In first recognizing it, and second in acknowledging our thankfulness regularly, we will develop the habit of gratitude. Like any action, the more it’s performed, the more it becomes routine, and the cycle gains momentum - eventually building an internal trait of gratitude.
As rewarding as it may feel to focus on recognizing the positive things, this can result in us getting comfortable and slowing our momentum. In taking time to acknowledge the negative things in our lives, it’s easy to come out feeling less than - not necessarily a desirable effect at face value. Most of us wouldn’t think, “Hey, let me set aside some time to focus on all of the bad things in my life.” But life is all about balance, and the practice of gratitude is not about developing a “Pollyanna” outlook - it’s about seeing things for what they are, and either accepting them into your life with thanks or developing a plan to improve them. Being appreciative of the positive things we have doesn’t necessarily lead to change, but being thankful for opportunities to improve things does.
This Quality Creates a Ripple Effect
As leaders, we wear many hats – managers, supervisors, mentors, directors, muses, examples – the list goes on and on. In juggling so many roles, often in tandem, it can be easy to forget to express our appreciation for our team, but it’s such an important trait for an effective leader to develop - and not just appreciation for the good.
Expressing thankfulness and appreciation to our colleagues serves as both a direct and indirect development of gratitude in the workplace. In expressing our appreciation to our colleagues, we are communicating to them, “you are valuable.” When we feel valuable and have that value recognized, it makes us want to step up more. Any successful person has some degree of intrinsic motivation, but having their significance recognized inherently adds to that motivation. Conversely, making others feel good about themselves makes us feel good about ourselves. It's a win-win all around.
Studies have shown that people who express gratitude are likely to experience a myriad of benefits, including but not limited to:
Medical and psychological benefits
Realization of psychological needs
Increased overall well-being
Additionally, gratefulness as a trait has been linked to increased work performance, job satisfaction, protection against burnout, as well as increased social behavior.
By actively promoting gratitude within our teams, we set up our colleagues and ourselves for success in a wide array of ways – both personally and professionally.
Another added bonus – practicing gratitude regularly reinforces that trait within ourselves, and so not only do our colleagues benefit, but we ourselves benefit as practitioners of gratitude.
As leaders, it’s not only about being thankful for what we have (or recognizing what our team members have), but being able to see what we don’t (or they don't) and putting structures and support into place to help compensate for them.
Oh, and One More Thing
When we demonstrate gratitude for only the positive, it can come across as ungenuine and ultimately doesn’t create a growth model for ourselves or our teams. In showing our appreciation for the negative as well as the positive, we become an authentic leader who displays not only thankfulness, but self-awareness of our weaknesses in a way that can both inspire our team and cultivate an environment of gratefulness and vulnerability.
As 2023 begins to wrap up and we begin to reflect not only on our year but our goals for the year ahead, actively working towards implementing gratefulness in our lives is something we do for not only ourselves, but also those around us. I challenge each and every one of us to not only focus on what we have, but what we don’t. By taking time to reflect on the yet-to-be’s, we provide ourselves with opportunities to develop plans of action to better ourselves and those around us. Not only does pausing for thanks for what we lack lead us to self-improvement, it holds up a greater magnifying glass to all that we do have.
What a gift to be thankful for all we do and don’t have. I can’t think of a better definition of gratitude than that.
Steve Uliana is a voice and communication specialist based in northern California, and long time fan of WeInspireWe. Steve has been passionate about voice for as long as he can remember – from singing along with Cyndi Lauper and Neil Diamond as a young child to pursuing performing as a profession. His first career as a professional opera singer continues to greatly inform his current position as a leader and licensed Speech Pathologist at one of the country’s most elite centers for voice and swallowing. In his clinical practice today, Steve treats primarily voice and upper airway disorders, with a sub-specialty in care of the professional voice user; he is also passionate about supporting individuals in leading themselves to find their own voices too.
Steve regularly presents at the national and international level on care of both professional and recreational voice users, in addition to contributing to ongoing research of voice disorders. Though his clinical position is in working with disordered voices, he continues to teach singing voice lessons, perform locally in both group and soloistic settings, and empower others around him to share their voices too. Steve holds degrees in communication and music from Northwestern University, the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston, and Ithaca College.
Expressing gratitude is important all year around. Being thankful for what we have - and what we don't - will help us to shift our mindsets, our attitudes, and most importantly our leadership of those around us. If you're ready to integrate gratitude as a trait in your leadership, schedule a free strategy session with us today.