Leadership and Thanks

Leading with Thanks


Arguably one of the most powerful words in any language, to soften hearts, reduce conflict, and increase productivity.

How often are you cultivating Thanks in your organization?

The benefits are many:

  • People who feel appreciated, perform better.
  • Positive feedback about what you want more of, gets you more of it.
  • Pausing to feel and express genuine “Thanks” – reduces stress and increases well-being.

As we approach the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving, a review of the history of this holiday can provide timely lessons for our leaders, and our world:

  • As with all things American, we disagree over when and how the holiday began. Most of us were taught the first Thanksgiving was in Fall 1621 after the harvest and hardship of freedom from British rule. However, historical evidence suggests it really began in Virginia in 1619 as a religious holiday (not a harvest feast.)
  • Thanksgiving was proclaimed a holiday in October 1789, by George Washington. Many opposers stated it was not the federal government’s role, but that of the state – and proclaiming it potentially violates separation of church and state. As a smart leader who understood compromise, Washington signed the proclamation and encouraged (not demanded) states to proclaim it as well.  Almost 100 years later, Abraham Lincoln paused in the midst of the Civil War on October 3, 1863, to make Thanksgiving a true national holiday.  Arguably one of the greatest leaders in history, Lincoln used the state of conflict and strife to remind people what to be grateful for, and their common purpose.

“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

Leading with thanks is the most powerful declarations a modern leader can make to their team or organization. Thanksgiving provides 3 good lessons to follow:

  • Create unity, not strife – When the first Pilgrims came together with Native Americans, they put aside differences. Now, when we come together to share food or football or good times, will we do the same? It is refreshing and invigorating to pause mid-week, put aside our disagreements, and truly enjoy a family feast. From a wise sage: “Thanksgiving can be a reconciliation of differences as well as a time of healing. In sharing our victories as well as our struggles, we find strength and hope.”

In lieu of recent events in the United States, a deeply appropriate theme. Many CEO’s agreed, issuing words of unity on the day following our controversial Presidential election.

  • Teaching the young – In stories retold, each generation brings purpose and significance to the richness of their heritage. Faded pictures, sentimental knick-knacks; for some, the prayer before the meal. Thanksgiving (until Black Friday took over) is a holiday of sharing traditions and symbolizes family.

What stories and methods are you applying as a leader, to treat your “organizational family” in symbolic ways that matter? To teach the next generation the value and practice of great leadership, through stories and training?  (The basics of how people want to be led has not changed in thousands of years.)

It’s time to stop lamenting differences and faults of the younger generation, and get busy teaching them to lead better!

  • Opening the heart in gratitude and service.  By “giving-thanks” we choose to extend ourselves and give to others less fortunate. Out of the abundance of our hearts, we are able to offer our resources to help others.

How are you as a leader, expanding your generosity of heart, to include those in your organization who want to succeed, but are struggling? Think of who helped YOU rise in your career, and take a moment this week to identify someone or (ones) who could benefit from your guidance, compassion, patience.

Here’s wishing all who celebrate, a wonderful Thanksgiving.

May your thankful heart be grateful.



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