Improve Your Business and Life with Gratitude

I reacquainted myself with an old book recently and began pondering this famous quote by the Roman politician Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Gratitude has been analyzed and scientifically studied practically as much as the human body. It’s been the fodder for plenty of books and articles, presented as a feel-good tool for personal development and happiness – a method for achieving your best life now. The term is often trotted out around Thanksgiving as a seasonal interest, and then put away for another year. For CEOs and successful leaders, this is akin to the belief that one can cultivate a strong work ethic in just a few short weeks when it actually requires a sustained, lifelong effort.

The presence of gratitude counteracts our negative vices — envy, resentment, and greed. When you are grateful for what you have, you spend less time comparing yourself to others, and less time making poor, fruitless decisions based on those comparisons. For many of us, the first obstacle to greater gratitude is simple busyness and distraction. The second obstacle is an ingrained penchant for noticing the negative over the positive. It muddies the water, forcing us into a constant state of aggravation and annoyance. The apologetic promise of being “better” tomorrow rings hollow until you commit to living a life of gratitude as a habit.As industry leaders, business men and women, or entrepreneurs, focusing on a “better” you can not only help your business to prosper but transform your ordinary days into better ones. As you make this transformation, it is essential that you emit gratitude throughout your daily walks of life. Incorporating these disciplines in your day-to-day affairs and business practices consists of subtle changes that lead to noticeable impacts.

The commitment must be genuine. After all, we grow and develop at our own pace, and the path we follow is uniquely ours. There is no way to force the process to happen more quickly; we do not wake up one morning to discover a change has taken place overnight. True gratitude comes from a shift in perspective, of which you have more control over than you may think. Make the effort to consciously focus on the things you do have, the things people have done for you, and the positive side of everything that has happened in your life. If you’re able to maintain a flexible schedule so you can assist with parenting duties, be grateful – and say it out loud. Vocalizing these positive thoughts generates tremendous energy. Early morning gym session before your first conference call? Remind yourself how good it feels, and tell yourself that you’ll keep it up tomorrow as well. It sounds simple enough, but people tend to focus on the other: the things they don’t own, the expectations they didn’t live up to, the hypothetical fantasies of how life would be better if they’d been dealt a different hand. You can’t rewire your brain overnight, but expressing gratitude is the first step to start today. Then, watch every aspect of your life transform as you do.

Your business is greater than yourself: you may have worked hard to get where you are, but you didn’t get there on your own. Express and demonstrate your appreciation – true appreciation – for the people around you who believe in you and help you grow into your best self. Your employees, team members, family members and career mentors have all helped you create a healthy  workplace that thrives on mutual respect, trust, and effort. Feeling underappreciated is one of the top reasons good employees leave.

Be genuine and thoughtful in your words and actions. As a busy executive or manager, you may carry a lot of responsibility and stress on your shoulders, so it’s easy to get lost in the never-ending turmoil of deadlines and delivering results. However, take a moment to be purposeful the next time an employee hands in their monthly report. Instead of saying a quick “thanks,” without making eye contact, give them your full attention, be specific and tell them, “Thank you for making your deadline and putting in the effort you have to move this company forward.” The results of a Glassdoor study speak for themselves. Four in five (81 percent) employees say they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work and more than half (53 percent) of employees report they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss. To reiterate, it sounds simple in theory, but chances are, you aren’t showing enough gratitude.

In turn, this virtue trickles down to your team and becomes a cultural touchstone of your business which can be seen and felt by clients and customers as they engage. Savvy business people understand the importance of keeping their employees happy, because regardless of position, they serve as the company’s first line of defense for customer service. Every entrepreneur understands the investment and sacrifice it takes to make even one new hire.  Gratitude is not usually thought of as a business strategy, but it should be one of yours.

Of course, there is life outside of work, so you should cultivate the discipline of gratitude in your personal life as well. Rather than be boastful about landing a new client or exceeding your sales goal, pay it forward. Take your team to lunch or handwrite a thank you note. Donate your time to charity and continue to attend religious services. Keep a Gratitude Journal, and make your entries as specific and detailed as possible so you are able to relive those moments and experiences. A year from now, reread your entries about the small and surprising things that you are thankful for. You are cultivating a lifelong habit now. After all, excellence is not an act but a habit.