Grateful Leadership: Your Grateful Future

By Donald Officer

“It’s crucial to understand how gratitude or appreciation creates value and meaning – that it all comes from inside each individual.”

– Dan Sullivan, Strategic Coach founder, and president

I became interested in Strategic Coach, the organization, a couple of years ago because a) I’d trained and practiced as a coach, and b) I’d developed and facilitated a well-received workshop in strategic thinking for almost a decade. It’s a mainstay of strategic thinking that although you can be taught about it, you really needed to be coached to gain full understanding and facility in it. One other factor heightened my curiosity, the company’s international headquarters is housed in downtown Toronto and easily reachable by commuter train from my east end home.

What I discovered was not exactly the program I’d imagined. Different, but nonetheless intriguing. The clients and prospects of Strategic Coach are already successful by market standards – that’s a sign-up qualifier. Instead, as founder and president Dan Sullivan explains, the goal of this world-wide well-established coaching practice is to help high achievers gain more in both quality of life by achieving even greater marketplace success while working less.

Dan’s 40 years of experience at this and a list of over 30 publications speak for a breadth of understanding borne out by an ability to keep a team and client list focused on the goals set forth during the first Strategic Coach interventions. What caught my eye as I glanced over the display of publications in their front office was one title in particular, The Gratitude Principle. Having heard the author speak on leadership, I was curious to learn his take on gratitude.

This book, Dan’s accompanying workbook, The 21-Day Gratitude Focus, and recent podcasts surprised me again. Yes, he and his team of coaches, speakers and widespread supporting staff are promoters and developers of grateful leaders, specifically entrepreneurs. However, their approach is refreshingly original, perhaps even unique.

What is gratitude definitely not? In The Gratitude Principle, three mindsets or personality preferences are personified each representing absence of gratitude: the just plain sorry for themselves; the “self-made” who give no credit to others; and the “born on third base” who feel entitled to privilege while blaming others for their eventual failures. Sullivan notes these broad judgment errors are correctible especially if character education starts in early childhood.

Our readers know that since grateful leadership requires consistent authenticity as a prerequisite, it’s very hard to fake, especially over time. Sullivan would agree while he also makes an interesting distinction between two types of genuine gratitude. The first is reactive. Leaders show gratitude to coworkers or others who have exhibited commendable behavior; some may and should be fairly acknowledged simply for being who they are. But Sullivan describes the second face of authentic gratitude in his book. This he calls proactive.

Proactive gratitude looks forward in anticipation not backward or immediate in recognition. A proactive gratitude leader takes the initiative before evidence of “deserving” becomes a matter of record. Gratitude is paid forward without guarantee or expectation of return from anyone in particular. Proactive gratification is akin to spontaneous acknowledgment, but it is also deliberate. Grateful proactive leaders begin with deep gratitude for what life has already given even if from some perspectives it may have delivered only meager and costly opportunities.

Remembering that the Strategic Coach customer base consists of active entrepreneurs helps us recognize that at some point an ask will usually be made as in most business relationships. From Sullivan’s vantage point this is only fair as the entrepreneur brings creativity and positive energy to the relationship coming from healthy confidence and demonstrated accomplishment. However, at this critical, scary moment in time entrepreneurs like everyone else must recognize our economy is in a “medically induced coma” as economist Paul Krugman describes it.

Proactive unconditional grateful leadership is especially in demand right now. Psychologists and community leaders remind us we need to exercise serious self-care while taking full account of the wellbeing of others. In this spirit, Dan Sullivan’s company has rereleased The Scary Times Success Manual first published after 9/11. For now, at least, relationships trump marketing.

As those familiar with Positive Psychology’s PERMA model will recognize, the “R” in the acronym stands for relationships right after positive emotions and engagement (the P and E). They are an essential step to flourishing – yes, even in the face of unprecedented adversity. Sullivan recommends that we take a longer-range approach to bring compassionate creativity to a proactive plan. “Nobody,” he notes, “is interested in products right now.” Truthfully they probably don’t have the wherewithal to guarantee delivery and clients external or internal can neither move goods and services received nor pay for them if anything actually arrives.

What leaders can do, and this applies to every aspect of life, is to build on relationships in open conversations asking about future plans in which both parties now have a real stake since a shared interest has been shown in them. As Dan explains in a recent Strategic Coach podcast referring to such calls, “You offer them a future.” At the same time, you give yourself one too.

Lacking purpose the temptation when grieving lost dependable normality is to suppress anxious rumination by indulging in “soft addictions” as Judith Wright of Chicago’s Wright Institute calls them. We know what she means: binge-watching, comfort foods, drinking, non-stop news coverage, oversleeping, endless social media, etc. In Deep Change Robert E. Quinn writes about a fundamental state of leadership consisting of inner direction and outer focus. Think of others and organize yourself to address their needs first. Show them you’re a grateful leader.

What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning Senior Vice-President, Judith W. Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment, will help you see the possibilities.