Leading with Gratitude in Bad Times


Leading with Gratitude in Bad Times

Sometimes I am asked, “Russell, of every executive leader you have ever coached at VIM Executive Coaching, who would you say was the toughest?”

I respond with, “You mean the most decisive?”

“No,” they say, “you know, the one who had to make the toughest decisions.”

It is a difficult question to answer, because I have had the absolute pleasure of working with so many fine people for so many years. There have been people in industry, associations and non-profit organizations who have developed into excellent leaders.

Finally, I bring up a person I once coached who exuded gratitude in everything she did. Because of what she endured I would never reveal her identity, but please bear with me.

Of Gratitude in Hard Times

The leader of which I speak, was a lower level executive who management felt had the potential to develop into an excellent executive. And they were right. She was a detail oriented yet compassionate person. Her co-workers liked her, she received glowing reviews and she was known throughout the company as, “Someone who knew how to say ‘Thank you.’”

The key to what made her so special was her gratitude.

She was not a young woman. She came from poor means, went through the passing of a spouse and had a child who was severely asthmatic. As if her life could not have gotten worse, while with the company who saw her potential, her physicians discovered cancer.

However, she was a very spiritual person who took the time to volunteer in her community (teaching dyslexic children to read), she often meditated and she had the rare ability to find the best in every thing and everybody. When we first began our coaching journey, she told me her daughter was a “precious gem,” that her marriage was “too short, but very beautiful,” that even her cancer, “taught me to appreciate every moment, even the hard and difficult moments.”

When she told me those things, it took my breath away. Any one of the “hits” she took might have completely knocked one of us down. Yet, she was thankful for any victories in her life, for anything beautiful in her life and even for the opportunities to grow within the moment.

She had the ability to be gracious in the light of the most difficult of situations. Her gratitude made her incredibly strong and not weak. The qualities of leadership she displayed were incredible.

Where gratitude meets authenticity

The gratitude of the woman that I coached directly stemmed from her authenticity. When she was going through her cancer treatments, she was neither “playing martyr,” nor was she bitter or manipulative by using her disease. If she was having a bad day, she would simply say she wasn’t feeling well or she was “under the weather,” and then let it go. In turn, those around her admired her inner strength and the dignity with which she dealt honestly and openly with her situation.

She never introduced the other problems she had endured nor her daughter’s condition nor the fact that she had gone through great sadness in her life. Instead, she chose to compliment people on work well done, to have a smile on her face and in situations that required managing, she responded to complaints, trying to see the humanity and goodness in everyone.

Yes, she was very “tough.” She accepted what life had given her and she turned her lot in life into positives and not negatives. I cannot pretend to know the pain that came up for her in the private and dark moments but I do know she was thankful for everything positive in her work and home life.

She has become a successful executive and upon reflection, she gave me as much as I tried to give her.

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