#006 - Gratitude: An Essential Leadership and Life Skill
Published on: 21st September, 2020
In today's episode, Robert, Igor, and Charles discuss Gratitude as a key life and leadership skill that can accelerate your growth and enhance your wellbeing. We talk about the role Gratitude plays in our personal and professional lives, and discuss ways that gratitude can simultaneously improve your personal well being, the effectiveness of your team, and the broader environment around you.
We referenced the following resources during our discussion, be sure to check them out if they piqued your interest:
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Charles Knight 0:01
Welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast. In today's episode, Robert, Igor, and I discuss gratitude. Gratitude is a key life and leadership skill that can accelerate your growth and enhance your well being. We talk about the role gratitude plays in our personal and professional lives, and discuss ways that gratitude can simultaneously improve your personal well being, the effectiveness of your team and their broader environment around you. Thanks for joining us today. And don't forget to subscribe and drop us a line if you enjoy the episode. Hey, guys, good to see you.
Igor Geyfman 0:37
Hey, good to see you.
Robert Greiner 0:38
Good to see you.
Charles Knight 0:40
Hey, I wanted to talk to you about gratitude today. And I came across this question that I'll pose to y'all now. Have you ever come across a skill that can simultaneously improve your own well being, the effectiveness of your team, and the broader environment around you, which is pretty impressive. I like a single skill that can impact all those three things. For me, gratitude is one of those skills. And I wanted to talk to you two about that today. And understands, you know, what role does gratitude play in your personal life? And also your professional lives? And maybe share with our listeners how they should consider gratitude as a key kind of leadership and life skill? Does that sound good to y'all?
Igor Geyfman 1:35
Yeah, sounds great.
Robert Greiner 1:37
Yeah, sounds really good.
Charles Knight 1:39
Awesome. So Robert, what do you think about gratitude? Is that something you think about that you've put into practice? Maybe just start with telling us what you know about gratitude?
Robert Greiner 1:54
Yeah, I think there's a couple of things that really springs to mind when you bring up the idea. First, the way that I'm wired is very assertive, very competitive. And that can lead to really two bad outcomes that are related to gratitude. One is, you can really alienate and push away the people around you when you're trying to drive to an objective, which is not what you want, maybe if you only need to take one objective. But if you need to take multiple objectives, and you're going to be with a team, for a sustained period of time, it's really not an optimal approach to burn all of your, your goodwill, on any single thing. And so the behaviors that manifests themselves around, pushing and driving to achieve an objective, are counterbalanced by expression of gratitude. And so I think, as a leader, for sure, really making it a point to be intentional around recognizing other people for the work that they put in. And you have to, you have to strike a balance here too, because you don't want to patronize, you don't want to give positive feedback when someone did a poor job. It's not any of that, but really expressing Hey, there was a late night deployment last night, thanks for showing up. And so Sally doesn't have to didn't have to be on the bridge alone, right? That kind of thing goes a long way, as inevitably, in a work environment, we have to put ourselves in situations where we do things we don't exactly want to do, right, there are deadlines and milestones and tasks to complete that really, sometimes you just have to push through. And when a team pushes for so long, that really drains the collective will. And I think gratitude is a way to counterbalance that. Second for me. So for me personally, my competitive nature does lead to can lead to occasionally behaviors that are that are not helpful for a team environment, I want to win, I want to take that objective. Sometimes there's a longer term view, that makes a lot more sense to focus on. And so when I internally, think through the things that I'm thankful for the people around me that I'm thankful for, it helps sort of diffuse that, that sort of competitive edge and balance it out into a much more productive zone, where the competitive behaviors of achievement and working towards a goal are actually useful and helpful in a situation and not focused on just trying to win which could could undermine relationships and the team. So for me personally, it's about sort of doling the edge just enough. And then for me as a leader, definitely it's around the long term sustainability and well being of the team.
Charles Knight 4:59
When I hear you talk about kind of the negative effects that are counteracted by gratitude, I think of the negativity bias that we have, as humans, just in general, we're wired to see the bad things. And that's, that's been really good in our evolutionary history, because we can pay attention to those things that can hurt us. And I think it's been probably four or five years. Since I, I sat down, and I deliberately built a gratitude practice. And it was, I think it was just I had a little small notebook, and about yay big. And, you know, you could fit in your pocket. And the practice was just a every morning, before you do anything else, just write down three things that you're grateful for. And they could be really small things. They could be really big things, they can be repeated things that didn't really matter. And I did that for six months. And it completely changed my life. And over time, it really does. I mean, it is a practice, it's like a muscle, but you train your brain to notice more positive things. And I would much rather pay attention to people's strengths on my team, or the positive traits of my daughter's then constantly just looking around in the world and seeing all of this negativity. Because to me, negativity is just a draining thing. Like it drains the energy right out of me. And, you know, I can, I can think of some very specific times where somebody at work has thanked me for something in a really meaningful way. And I'm, like, forever indebted to them. Right. It's like, I'm loyal to them until the end, because they took the time and energy to communicate how grateful they are. You know, for me, I don't remember specific situations. But I remember how I felt. And I think I've been trying to recently share more gratitude in the professional setting, because I've been doing it personally for such a long time. And I think gratitude is really effective at motivating and engaging your team. And so that's why I think it's a powerful leadership skill. So Thanks, Robert. Igor, what's your experience bandwidth with gratitude?
Igor Geyfman 7:46
Well, I come from, like a design background. And the cornerstone of a great designer, is constant dissatisfaction with the status quo. Why is it like this? And not like that? Why isn't this optimized to be more functional? Or more beautiful? Or in some way improved? as to what it is today? Why did someone release something like this? Right? Why is this bench, this part designed in a way that, you know, makes it not compatible with the way that people would want to use it ideally, right? And there's this quest for some ideal that a designer has, and being dissatisfied, really is like the kindling is the fuel for making a difference, I guess, right, like changing things. And that's, that's probably a very inadequate way to think about it. Right. And so I, I've definitely felt because dissatisfaction to some degree, is probably the opposite or some, some other, you know, end of the spectrum from from gratitude. You know, I'm going to be grateful for you know, X, Y, and Z, or I'm highly dissatisfied with with X, Y, and Z. And that drives my craft. And for a while that like worked for me, especially when I didn't have to lead others. You know, that dissatisfaction could drive me to, to make things better. And then as I started working with other designers, and I had team members that I was responsible for. I noticed that my dissatisfaction, constant dissatisfaction with the way things are, and wanting to improve things, but then also dissatisfaction with my team members. Why this person the way they are, you know, why can't they make this better, right? And it was really destructive.
I had to hit a switch, in my personal life and in my professional life, on being dissatisfied all the time. And practicing gratitude, and I'm going to tell you, it doesn't really come naturally to me, it's not something probably doesn't come natural to a lot of folks. You know, I don't know if I wake up in the morning feeling grateful.
But if I take a minute,
and I slow down, and I'm intentional about what am I grateful for, you know, that question, there's lots of things for me to be grateful for. And what I found is that it doesn't actually impact my performance, like, I can still be dissatisfied with all the things that need to be improved, and also be grateful for all the things that are wonderful. Or even for the very same thing that I'm dissatisfied for, right, because there's some foundation of it, sometimes you can be grateful for its existence, so you have something to improve. You know, like, if everything was great, then I would never be able to be dissatisfied with anything, and I'd be out of a job. You know, and, and so it definitely doesn't come easy to me. And, and I do now really tryto be very mindful of being grateful. And especially with the team, and being very intentional about thanking people for the great work that they're doing.
helps me be positive, you know, have have a positive outlook, which, which really helps. And it helps in times, you know, if you have a positive outlook, and, you know, you get some news, that's not particularly positive, right, something that's challenging for you, um, you build up like a bank account. And you're able to counter weigh the things that will inevitably come your way that are that are negative with like, a buildup of gratitude that I think because I do think it's cumulative. Like, if you're reaching for gratitude, at the moment, or something crappy happened, it's probably too late. You know, and it's okay to have like, negative emotions and let, let that thing sort of play its course, you know, through your mind, but definitely, I think gratitude has helped me be more resilient. And I can still get, you know, I'm dissatisfied with how, you know, how ungrateful I am sometimes still, you know, and, and it makes me and it makes me want to improve. So that's my experience with gratitude. It's, it's a challenging one. And it's one with like, a pretty, you know, history with lots of lots of ups and downs.
Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's, I don't think it's easy for most people to be grateful on command on demand. As you were saying that I remembered, there were I could probably go back through my written gratitude journal and see repeated entries. It's like, I am grateful for having two arms and two legs. Right? It's like that that was a frequent entry in my journal, because I was just so frustrated, upset with life, with work, with my situation that I couldn't think of anything else. And I remember judging myself pretty harshly for those, you know, it's like, jeez, I can't think of anything else. It's like how, you know, how privileged I am. And I can't be grateful for more than just my arms and legs right now. And I remember not feeling it. Like I didn't feel grateful when I wrote that down. And there are also other times when I wrote that down, and I felt super grateful, like, deeply grateful for having two arms and two legs, you know, to be able to walk around and pick up my kids and you know, do my work and not have any struggles with mobility. It's just it's a fascinating exercise because the point isn't to, you know, get rid of those negative emotions. I love what you said, Igor. In the moment, it's to build up that muscle, and which, which allows you to be more resilient. So I love the connection to resilience there. You know, Robert, I want to ask you a question, something that you said earlier, made me think about this gratitude, especially the way that I practiced it and experienced it, it's pretty simple. But it's really just notice notice things in your life right now that you're grateful for, or that that you've had in your life in the past? And yet, when it involves other people, like you're expressing gratitude to teammate, or to a friend or to a family member, there was some difficulty in that. There's some challenges in doing that effectively and authentically. And have you ever struggled with that? Like, if you wanted to express gratitude for a teammate? Have you ever been in a situation where you didn't know what to say? Or didn't know exactly what to thank them for? For example?
Yeah, I think as a leader, you frequently feel like you have to be dispensing wisdom or guidance, or have the right answer all the time, forever. And so there are situations where I did not express my appreciation for someone, because I didn't know what to say. And you find out later that two words are enough. Thank you. Right, like, if you're not sure what to say, Thank you is a really good place to start. And that's helped. So it is, it's a professional regret, the times where it's hard enough to express gratitude, in your, to your point to feel gratitude, and that those moments are fleeting, and you can squander them right? Or not be as effective with them as you could. And so I really think that awkwardness around especially if you don't do it a lot, that's normal, right, that's a, that's a feeling of growth, and, and really should be viewed as a positive thing, because you're stretching, you're getting better. And you if you when you do it 100 times or a dozen times, or whatever, it won't be, I won't feel so awkward over time. And you'll kind of build up, hey, I like how I feel and how I see people react when I say thank you versus thanks. Or you'll just start to get those sort of nuances. Or I like to follow with, thank you for putting in the effort or thank you for that little bit of extra attention to detail or thank you for staying late. Or thank you for speaking up in this meeting, right? Like you can give an example and work it into feedback. And so I think part of it is a I don't want to say a stylistic thing, because that's not, that doesn't seem right. But a practice thing of, hey, when I string the details around it, or I like to keep it short, or maybe I like to do two sentences, or maybe I like to follow it up with the question, right, you'll build that sort of skill set for expressing gratitude. And I think that's really helpful. Because, like I said, you don't, where I've struggled with in the past, and mostly I just kept my mouth shut, and that's a shame. And so I think when you get that feeling, when you get that short circuit in your brain around, oh, this is an opportunity to express gratitude. those are those are rare. So just do something with it. Even if it's imperfect, it's going to be better than than doing nothing at all. And I'll just say one more thing. There are times in my career where I have felt completely underappreciated. And it turns out that people around me appreciated what my contributions deeply. And they're you just sort of going back to what we're talking about earlier, there, when you're burnt out, when you're not feeling it, you sort of assume the worst in a situation. And so this is a good, good way also to sort of let people know where you're at how you feel about a situation, how you feel about contributions. So a lot of good can come from expressing gratitude. Oh, you send a lot of signal in that around around how you feel how to work with you. Stuff like that.
Yeah, but that that reminds me of the kind of the ripple effect, right of gratitude. It's, I think we've all experienced gratitude from people in our lives professionally and that probably primes us to do the same, you know, for others, and it creates this. Hopefully, a virtuous cycle of gratitude. You know, something you said, brought a little clarity to Robert around in the moment, like when something happens in the moment. It is fleeting. But it's also really easy to express gratitude in those moments because you have a reason to notice. Okay, your team did something. And if you recognize it, all you need is that Thank you. And I remember, at our company a while ago, we experimented with opening a meeting, a regular meeting that we had on a weekly basis, with, Hey, what are you grateful for? And I will tell you, this is after having done years of personal gratitude practice. Even there, I felt weird, saying what I was grateful for. Isn't that strange? Like, isn't it strange that if something did something for me, or they worked hard, I have no problem expressing gratitude in that situation? But in a room full of my peers, when it's just kind of forced upon me, I guess? Like, I don't want any part of it. Do you remember that?
Yeah, force gratitude.
Yeah. But that that's really no different than what I was doing with my gratitude journal, you know, in bed first thing in the morning, it's, it's just fascinating, I'll have to think about what the differences are, there. Igor what are your thoughts on why that might be challenging for me? Analyze me, my friend,
Well, I don't you know, I'm not qualified to analyze you, or anyone. It made me just think of a bit of a different moment. Um, me and some other folks were working with some kids who were learning how to like code. Right, so is sort of like a volunteer thing. And every time we had a session, we would open up with some sort of warm up exercise. And sometimes it was there, the kids favorite thing was something called Zen counting. I don't know if anyone's heard of Zen counting before. But basically, you count chronic, you know, chronologically, no, numerically, you know, 123. And then, if any, and then if anybody messes up the count, you know, you're not going in order or anything like that, if anybody messes up the count, you know, you have to start over. So you're trying to hit a high number with, and you're sort of feeling other people's energy, maybe of like, when they're gonna count, and you're kind of working off of that. And so they love that. And I remember I replaced that one day with, I said, Hey, today, I want us all to share something that we're grateful for. And these kids are probably 11, 12, 13 years old. And they groaned. Like it was, it was just audible, like, Ah, you know, and, and I was like, Huh, like, what, what an interesting reaction, hear that these kids are groaning about having to share something that they're grateful for. And I think just like many things, whenever it's forced on you, it's just not as helpful or rewarding or effective, then and when it's something that you choose for yourself. So I think autonomy, in your gratitude practice, is really important. And if you feel like, you're being grateful, because it's something that, you know, your boss told you to do, or your partner told you to do, or your parents told you to do, or your, you know, volunteer person at your school told you to do. You're almost you're gonna be like resistant to it. You know. So I think having agency and autonomy over your gratitude practices is really important. And that's why maybe it feels strange when it's hoisted on us, but sometimes, but sometimes it's okay. Right. And I think a technique that I've picked up, is not sharing it publicly. And just saying, hey, I want to take 30 seconds for the group. And for all of us to just individually think about what we're grateful for. We're not going to share it with anybody. You know, we're not we're not going to sort of sing Kumbaya and go around the campfire here and say what we're all grateful for out loud, just for yourself. You know, take a moment and maybe that could work better? Because I also think there's a performative thing that comes with it. Right. So now I have to share what I'm grateful for, too. So maybe, yeah, those are a couple of thoughts that I had, as you mentioned, this idea of, you know, why maybe it felt bad when you weren't doing it for yourself?
Thanks, Igor. That makes a lot of sense. Actually, I, I hadn't thought about the forced aspect of it, I was thinking about the fact that expressing vulnerability, whether it's forced, or to somebody else, that actually requires a little bit of courage, you kind of expose yourself a little bit, you know, because if I am saying that I'm grateful for something, I guess it exposes something that I value, you know, that I care about? And that that's, that can be scary. Yeah, I think for me, when it was forced this just like, oh, gosh, you know, what do I, you know, do I do I share? I'm grateful for my arms and legs? Or do I do I share that I'm grateful for, you know, something deep and meaningful? And I think that's what that's what has made it hard as well, you know, the fact that it does take courage and in a professional setting, you know, gosh, you know, sharing, sharing emotions in a work setting is, might be considered unheard of, you know,
Can I run an idea past you? And just like to, because then you're not thinking like these techniques? And what about, you know, same setting, right, we're taking 30 seconds to a minute. And instead of maybe sharing out loud, which has a vulnerability, and the lack of autonomy component. You know, the sharing for yourself doesn't have the vulnerability component, but it still has the lack of autonomy component. What would you think if I said, you know, Charles, and everybody else, please take a look around the room virtually, or if you're in person. And think of something that you're grateful for, that's brought to your life by another person in this room? And write them a quick slack message. And just send them a slack message of why you're grateful for them? You know, it does that feel better?
Absolutely. It does. Yeah, it. I think it gives you a constraint that's like, ah, let me look at Robert and think about all the ways he's been. But also, it's more private, right? It's like, yes, Robert will see it, but maybe not everybody else, everyone else wouldn't see it. I actually thought you're going with anonymous, like, hey, write down something. Um, but don't put, don't put your name on it, or the other person's name on it and kind of share that around. It's like, that would be an interesting exercise to try to, you know, kind of have that ripple effect. without the fear, right? Because you're anonymous at that point.
Yeah, I had a visceral reaction like against that. For some reason. I don't know why.
The anonymous one or original one.
Yeah, the the anonymous one. I don't know. I can't quite put my finger on why I get why you would not want to share publicly because of that the autonomy thing we've talked about. And then also, you're trying to calibrate in the moment in front of your peers. Okay, do I? Is this personal? Is this professional? Am I trying to sound smart? Am I trying to be vulnerable? Like you, you start to analyze all the signals that you're sending and like, Oh, I'm not, and it kind of locks you up. And so I, I get I get that. The anonymous side, though, I don't know and I don't even know how I'd feel if I if I got a handwritten note. That was just like, hey, thanks. I don't know. And, and maybe that's from being married over a decade now. And you definitely win. But my wife's very high detail, and she's also like, fiercely loyal. And so if you express gratitude, and thanks to her, that goes a long way in building a relationship like with her especially, and it's always though, you don't want to say just that, like thanks and not be specific in that situation. Right. And so, I'm just not sure. I can't quite put my finger on why I don't like that. But then I'm, then I'm thinking it's better than, than nothing. Right? And so if that's if that's all you feel comfortable to do, maybe it's okay. I don't know, I'm not a fan, though.
I'm going back on my original suggestion, and here's, here's why. Here's why I don't like it. And here's why I like Charles's version a little bit better. I'm thinking also of being in that room and not getting a slack message. And now, I feel like three times worse than I did before I walked into that room. Right? Because there's, there's no guarantee that everybody's going to feel grateful about something about everybody in that room, right? In fact, the odds are, is that there are going to be people who, there's going to be several people who get a couple of messages, and there's going to be several people that get no messages.
And you have on the end that moment, though, that is completely orthogonal to the point of the exercise. That's right, just for you to express gratitude to someone else. And so now it's like, oh, yeah, how do I feel if, if I'm not getting anything? So that that's a slippery slope? Because the point is to in the expression, right?
Yeah. So I take my suggestion back.
That's where the ego can get in the way, right, instead of expressing gratitude for the benefit of yourself and the relationship. You're concerned about receiving gratitude? Yeah, that's, that's interesting.
Not everyone's achieved that plane, including me, that plane of mental stability, Charles. So I would much rather I would be one of those people whose ego would get in the way. And I was like, I'd feel bad.
Oh, I did. I definitely would, too.
Yeah. It's just it's not that that's not the point. But I would, I would definitely notice, I would notice if no one said anything my way for sure.
Well, guys, this, this has been great. How about we wrap up, and maybe we just go around, and we offer a practical tip for expressing gratitude, you know, something that our listeners can take action on right now was right now is the best time to do it. So, Igor, you want to go first?
Yeah, you know, my, my practical tip just goes back to my original and ongoing struggle with, with gratitude. And in some ways, the idea that gratitude will lead to a place of complacency. Because if I'm not continuously dissatisfied with things, I'm not going to make progress on the things that matter. And that's, that's a false narrative. And so my my tip, if you can call it that, is to let go of that false narrative. There's still so many things to be grateful for. And that attitude. And that mindset, can live in the same space. And in the same mind, as somebody who wants to improve things for the better. And so just do it. And don't feel like it's going to make you complacent, or less effective. Because that's a very limiting mindset. And it's just not true. In my lived experience, it just it's not true. And my thoughts, my big tip is, don't don't fear, complacency and be grateful.
Thanks, Igor. Robert, how about you?
Yeah, the thing that I'd say is, don't let the opportunity to express gratitude to someone else fleet away, think about in that situation, the well being of the other person and put your personal comfort, and maybe not wanting to feel awkward aside. And recognize that that realization, that short circuit, that trips in your brain that says, Oh, I should, I should do something about that you noticed. And I think the more you notice about what the other people around you are doing, that helps you, that helps the world around you. Definitely call it out. And that helps train too like if you're if you are running a team. People want to know what they should be doing. They want feedback on what to do, what not to do. And so you're also showing like, hey, that thing you did, I noticed that I like that that's important. Do more please. And so you're going to create just a better system around you by injecting gratitude into it. And I think that it could really build up a level of, like I mentioned earlier, professional regret, if you notice, and you you don't do anything about it. And so I would definitely say do it. And then take stock of do it when you think about it, take stock of how you feel afterwards. And maybe over time, you can start to notice a trend of it being much more comfortable in the expression of gratitude for sure.
Yeah, and I would say my tip builds on that, like, absolutely do it in the moment. My tip would be, it is never too late to express gratitude to another person for something that they've done. Like, even if you miss it in the moment, there is no reason why 10 years later, you cannot reach back out and say, Hey, you may not remember me, you may not remember the situation, but I do. And I wanted to say thank you. And that is, you know, gratitude is timeless in that regard. It's powerful in the moment, it is just as powerful, maybe even more powerful at times when there's distance from the event because that it shows the other person how meaningful it was to you the thing that they did, and that can go a long way towards kind of really deepening that relationship. Well, guys, another great conversation. I'm grateful to you all. Robert, I'm grateful for you to get us motivated to to do this podcast. I'm super appreciative and really great.
And I'll, I'll send you my note of gratitude in 10 years.
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