Thoughts on Leadership: Giving thanks

‘Tis the season to be grateful! Thanksgiving is probably more closely associated in our minds with eating, shopping, and travel than it is with actually giving thanks. This is a mistake, however, and we should take some time this week to reflect on all we have to be grateful for in our lives and why it is important to cultivate a thankful spirit.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

So Abraham Lincoln wrote in his 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation. Of course, Thanksgiving had been celebrated in America for years, but it was Lincoln who, in the midst of a brutal civil war, chose to make it a national holiday. This should make us think. As a leader, Lincoln was facing almost unimaginable challenges in war and political scheming. But it was precisely at this point that he redirected everyone’s focus to higher things—family, home, God.

True, authentic gratitude has a way of cutting through the stress and challenges of leadership. It is so easy to get caught up in minutia and lose sight of the bigger purpose. Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and reflect on the big questions, your goals not just for this quarter or year, but for your whole life.

Giving thanks for our blessings also helps remind us that we do nothing by ourselves. Even the most successful and ambitious leaders have mentors, colleagues, spouses, and teams without which they could do nothing. As John Donne famously said, “No man is an island entire of itself.”

So, whatever your holiday plans, take some time this week to give thanks, to recall the blessings you’ve received in the last year. A little gratitude can do a lot to reframe your outlook on leadership.

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