Deep within all of us we can find a gratitude gap. It first appears as a little bitty crack and can quickly widen with enough neglect. Gaps are formed by the absence of gratitude. Whenever gaps exist, they always get filled with something. It is our decision on what fills it.
Gratitude is an outward expression of our appreciation and thankfulness for things and others. It is nearly impossible for us to experience anything negative emotionally if we are filling the gap with gratitude. Don’t believe me? Try it! Gratitude and negativity cannot coexist, one always wins out.
Deep down, each of us desires to be grateful people. As adults, it is something we remind our kids of daily, yet we fail to express gratitude ourselves. Being ungrateful comes pretty natural to human beings, that is why there are not any self-help sections on the subject in the bookstore. Therefore, we must work towards being a grateful person.
So, if we are not filling the gap with gratitude, what are we likely to fill it with? If we are not careful, here are three things that will fill the gap:
I am naturally inclined to be a task-driven person. Every personality profile I take says it. Gratitude for people and things can easily fall by the wayside in the way my mind is wired. From a task perspective, finish one thing and on to the next for me. I have to use great discipline and caution in order to not skip the celebratory stage.
I recently celebrated my second anniversary of becoming City Manager. With that anniversary comes my annual evaluation. A component of that evaluation process is a self-evaluation that contains a list of our team’s accomplishments over the last year. After spending an evening of writing out those many accomplishments, I finally had to settle for the last sentence that basically said, “this narrative in no way accurately accounts for all of the team’s accomplishments this year.” A gap had formed within me of forgetfulness, it wasn’t until I celebrated it through the process, that I was adequately grateful for what the team did.
If we fail to celebrate those accomplishments in our organizations, they can easily be forgotten. Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate! That is the way to fill the gap with gratitude. Great leaders are grateful people.
As a task driven person, I have to make a concerted effort to be grateful for people or gaps can be filled with neglect. Verbal expression of gratitude is uncomfortable for me, as it is many others. I have always told the teams that I have led, “If you expect me to run up and down the hallways doing toe touches, I’m not your guy!” It doesn’t relieve my need to adapt though.
How do I adapt and prevent the gap being filled with neglect? I had a friend once tell me that, “Gratitude is never silent.” At first, that can mislead someone to think that all gratitude has to be spoken. That is incorrect. Gratitude just needs to be outwardly expressed. For me, that is in written form. A good old-fashioned hand-written note is my comfort zone.
As a leader, fill the gap with gratitude through verbal or written communication. These are the two most meaningful ways. If those aren’t your style, do it through direct message or text. Find your own gap filler. Neglect fills the gap when gratitude stays silent.
Envy easily fills the gap when gratitude doesn’t exist. American Poet and Writer Harold Coffin once said, “Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of your own.” We all have blessings if we can look in the mirror every morning and not out the window at the neighbors house. Envy can be hard to combat. It is human nature to lose sight of the good things in our world when we perceive that better things are happening in someone else’s.
Zig Ziglar said, “The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more you will have to express gratitude for.” Easier said than done, right? But…it is so true. When we are grateful for all that we have, it drowns out the envy towards things we don’t have.
In leadership, it is easy to become ungrateful. We get into the grind of our worlds and lose perspective of the good that takes place around us. We see the resources other organizations may have, the success they experience, or just flat out forget how good we have it in comparison. Envy chokes out gratitude. When we fail to fill the gap with gratitude for what we have, envy gladly will.
If we are being honest with ourselves, sometimes it is hard to fill the gap with gratitude. The storms of life and leadership rain down on us through difficult circumstances, chaos, criticism, and conflict. Those storms leave behind discouragement, destruction, and dismay in their path.
The counterbalance to storms…gratitude. What from those storms can we find gratitude for? Is it simply that we are still standing? What if it shaped and molded us into the person we are today?
On the flip side of storms are good circumstances and the calm of life. We grow complacent in our gratitude for things and others. We dance through life without being scathed, meanwhile the cracks are growing into gaps that are not filled with gratitude.
President John F. Kennedy had a great thought on gratitude, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” The people we lead will follow our actions. If we are grateful, they will be grateful. When all else fails, when the gaps form, fill them with gratitude.
What or who is on your Gratitude List? What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for? Outwardly express it. Fill the gap…