Thanksgiving offers Leadership Moment in Valuing People

Susan S Freeman Blog

As the U.S. prepares for the major holiday of Thanksgiving, I invite leaders to explore how we value people. It can feel awkward to verbally share what we appreciate and value in one another. Yet I can say from direct experience that expressing appreciation and gratitude for how another individual positively affects us is one of the most generous acts in which we can engage. Not only does it positively affect the receiver; it also enhances the giver.


This year I personally feel incredibly grateful for the folks who supported me after an extensive over-use injury from October, 2018 that was difficult to diagnose for over 8 months.   I have told the team that finally figured out the root cause and how to help me fully recover, how much their knowledge and care has meant to my life. Without them, I would have many blessings, but would not be enjoying the physically active, pain-free lifestyle that was so important to me.

I have been on the receiving end of gratitude this week as well, receiving meaningful notes, cards, and calls from family and friends. My heart soared with each one of them.

Gratitude has also been researched extensively. Harvard Medical School Health Publishing reported findings from Dr. Robert A. Emmons of Univ. California at Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, who have done much of the research on gratitude.

“In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation”

The research extended to the field of leadership as well.  “Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the Univ. of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”

So research and direct experience cause me to invite you to commit to one way of getting in touch with your own gratitude. Here are some pointers:

  • Write a handwritten thank-you note once or twice a month to someone you appreciate at work, or in your life; share with them the impact they have had on you.
  • Write in a journal five things you feel grateful for.
  • Call someone whose relationship you value and let them know what about them specifically you are grateful for in your life

Wishing you more people and things to acknowledge, than you have had time to count this Thanksgiving.

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