I believe that company cultures, as well as individuals, can reinvent themselves to be more human, more relational, and more in accordance with our nature. I mentor leaders to be connected to self, others and the natural world. This web of connections allows my clients to have a steady flow of confident decision making and creativity.
Gratitude is one of the foundational practices of how I lead my companies and what I teach my clients. Gratitude in the workplace now appears in headlines, primarily because gratitude leads to happiness. Usually, these articles encourage an individual practice, sometimes a company culture of genuine appreciation, and once in a rare while, gratitude is seen as a group activity.
Gratitude amplifies awareness of priorities. It reminds people of their purpose.
I almost always begin meetings by facilitating an intentional round of sharing gratitude. When I form a team, for example, and have a list of details and logistics to cover, I first begin with awakening connection to what is important. Gratitude amplifies awareness of priorities. It reminds people of their purpose.
The practice of sharing gratitude gives us presence in our meetings. People focus when presented with emotional, meaningful context. They report remembering everything that others shared, late into the day and beyond. Extended gratitude woven throughout your days and your team brings an awareness of how actions and consequences are intricately arranged. Could being thankful activate systems thinking? Gratitude gives assistance to making the best decisions, not only for us, but for all those around us and far beyond the next quarter.
The original instructions for human beings is to give thanks.
How I lead has grown from decades of grounding in indigenous wisdom, and I learned my practice of gratitude from Jake Swamp, a great Mohawk elder, sub chief of the Wolf clan, who passed away in 2010. The Mohawks are a part of the Iroquois confederacy. In their own language, they are Haudenosaunee, which translates as “People of the Long House.” This sophisticated culture provided the foundation for our democracy. As the early colonists were looking for a way to organize themselves, the Haudenosaunee had already organized 5 nations as a confederacy for hundreds and hundreds of years. Google “Haudenosaunee and Constitution” for more on that history, or see Gregory Schaaf’s book Wampum Belts and Peace Trees. Ben Franklin spent eleven years learning from the Mohawks, and I encourage everyone to turn some awareness to their wisdom and peacemaking traditions.
In the Haudenosaunee language, their practice of sharing gratitude translates as “the words before all else.” Their goal in beginning gatherings with gratitude is to connect to insight that allows the best decisions for seven generations forward.
Chief Jake Swamp talked about original instructions. The original instructions of the birds, for example, are to sing each morning and lift the hearts and minds of people. The original instructions for human beings is to give thanks.
In an office, with your family, or elsewhere, a foundation of gratitude invites presence, positive interactions, and connection.
Walking outside with a state of thankfulness, I notice that the animals and birds are less apt to run away from me. Gratitude opens up awareness and reinforces connection. When I am aware and connected, I see deer before they see me. When I hear a singing bird, my sphere of awareness is greater than my sphere of disturbance. For example, as I recently approached a cedar waxwing in a crab apple tree, I shifted my behavior to gratitude. By slowing down just enough, I got to see this bird at 3 feet, in vivid detail, passing berries to its partner on a branch as part of a courting ritual. The same thing works with people. In an office, with your family, or elsewhere, a foundation of gratitude invites presence, positive interactions, and connection.
Here is my 6-step guide to the office adaptation of sharing gratitude that goes back a thousand years in the Iroquois tradition and can be found in cultures around the world:
1. Wait for Everyone. Gather the group and let them know that you’re going to get started when everyone who is intended to be there is present. Waiting for everyone is an important signal that everyone matters. The purpose of a shared gratitude is not just for the individual to become connected to themselves. The event also allows for the group to enter formally into a state of unified purpose. I find that it is especially powerful to hold the value of unity above the value of efficiency when conducting gratitude. Taking a little extra time is a good investment.
2. Set or Reset the context. If sharing gratitude is new to anyone, they will need some history. Explain that you are all taking some time to gain an awareness of what is important and bring presence to the meeting. You might want to explain the indigenous origins of the practice. You might want to circulate this article in advance.
If it feels more comfortable at first, you can adjust the practice to having people share an intention they are bringing to this meeting. Stating intention can also awaken connection to what is important. Because the question assumes that people have a purpose, it awakens purpose and intentionality. I expect my team members to have purpose. I want to know on a regular basis what that purpose is and if they are awake to it
In a healthy environment, people enjoy the formality of gratitude facilitation. It creates a safe space to drop into another part of themselves they really enjoy.
3. Modeling First. My style as a leader is to only ask others to do what I have done, and to be willing to keep modeling those tasks as needed. I model giving thanks by being the first to do so. You can begin with “I’ll start. Today I’m grateful for...”, or "Today, I am happy that..."
4. Practice vulnerability. Being authentically grateful is a vulnerable state of being, and this can take practice. You may be surprised by how challenging this can be for some people. People may not be familiar with what moves them or may not be aware of what they are feeling in the moment. In fact, this process requires people to get present to an underlying part of themselves that they may not have checked in with while going about their work day. It may be as though they did not even bring this part of themselves to work in the first place. In learning to be authentic and vulnerable as a leader, you are modeling an authentic workplace.
5. Inclusion. Pass it to the person to your left by simply asking: “How about you, (Name), what are you grateful for today?”
I like to acknowledge that they have spoken, so I usually recap with, “Thanks.” Then activating the next the same way... “How about you, (Name), what are you feeling thankful for?” From there I might just say their name... “Jim ?,” and then, “Thank you…Marie?,” and so on until it is not necessary to say anything accept “thank you” at the end. If you say “thank you” once, you have to say thank you to everyone.
6. Wrapping it up. I believe all good processes have an opening and closing. When it’s back around to you there is an opportunity to express what is unifying the group. There may be a lot of appreciation for water after a drought, or the group may have been reminded that they can be authentic in the workplace and share information about family and friends. This summarizing creates a transition to bring a unified group to the next part of the meeting. If I see that the group became more attuned to gratitude towards the end of the circle, I may first open it back up for one more. “Anyone have another thought they want to share before we wrap this up?”
In a healthy environment, people enjoy the formality of gratitude facilitation. It creates a safe space to drop into another part of themselves they really enjoy. It’s the part of them that is connected to purpose and meaning. The mind is a tool, it’s clever, it’s efficient. The heart is about awareness and connection. It’s what makes life meaningful.
I have heard thankfulness for gardens, compost, rain, snow, trickling creeks, trout, tropical fish, vacation moments, daffodils, tomato plants, shade trees, sharing food, fall leaves, cherry pies, an aging parent, health, lessons from illness, family, children's drawings, friendship, neighbors, teachers, dogs catching and retrieving frisbees, cats chasing sunlight reflections, riding horses, chickens, foxes, deer, robin songs, raptors, a smile, a summer breeze, thunderstorms, sunshine, solar panels, a full moon, stars...the possibilities are endless.
The safety provided by a workplace where people can be authentic, where they can acknowledge a life other than their role at the office, increases employee engagement, retention, and productivity.
With one-on-one mentoring, workshops, and off-site events, Mark Morey helps business leaders achieve healthy, functioning, and self-sustaining organizational cultures by harnessing the authentic and powerful principles of nature.