Gratitude at Work

A reader of the blog recently wrote of his personal experience with a gratitude journal. Here is an edited version of his message.

I started my gratitude journal more than four years ago. First of all, I never understood what was so important about being grateful. For me, it was too much a religious concept and a waste of time. But I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I began writing daily at least three things I was grateful for in my life. Doing so changed my life. I became more present. I was able to direct my attention inward. It changed my awareness and beliefs. You cannot be grateful and resentful at the same time. Gratitude has become second nature to me.

I share this because it represents a commonly expressed pattern. A person has little use for the concept of gratitude, is exposed to the research showing the many positive payoffs, and begins to keep a gratitude journal. The simple writing process changes feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

The process has organizational possibilities. A woman who runs a staff function in a business school once told me about her Thankful Thursdays. She convinced her people to keep gratitude journals. Once a week she asks her staff to share their most important feeling of gratitude. Doing so changed the culture and the performance of the unit. She told this story in public. Her direct reports were present. They all grew excited and competed to tell stories illustrating the power of Thankful Thursdays. In was a manifestation of positive deviance in a conventional setting.



  • Why do people resist the concept of gratitude?
  • Why does increasing in gratitude change one’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors?
  • Why does the process work in a collective setting?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



Adaptive Confidence

The new Mission Impossible movie is an action-packed thriller much like the prequels. It is also a perfect illustration of leadership and positive culture—and that positive culture produces two assets not available to conventional groups.

The protagonist is high on task and people and willing to sacrifice for both. His people know this about him and about each other. The result is a team with unusually high levels of focus, trust, and collaboration.

The presence of these characteristics often brings out two other characteristics: positive peer pressure and adaptive confidence. In a team with positive peer pressure, everyone expects everyone else to give their best, so they do and this eventually gives rise to adaptive confidence.

Adaptive confidence tends to emerge in a team with positive peer pressure. It is the belief that a solution can be manufactured in the process of pursuing a challenging task. In the movie, team members are often under stress and they make statements like these: “We can figure it out”; “I know you can figure it out”; or “I will figure out something.” They have adaptive confidence at the collective and the individual level and they thus perform well under pressure and accomplish things other groups would not be able to accomplish.

While the movie is fictional, I know a CEO and a four star general who both understand adaptive confidence and inspirational leadership. The CEO says the way to determine if an executive is a leader is to see how the team performs under stress. If they collaborate, adapt, and accomplish their goal no matter what, then the CEO knows that the executive is a leader who inspires.

The general makes the same observation, indicating that whether or not a man with two bullets in him focuses, adapts and, accomplishes a mission is a function of inspirational leadership prior to the event. Toxic leaders or micro-managers can get results when they have total control of known processes, but when the people can only succeed by adapting under pressure, such authority figures fail.

If you watch the movie, try a challenge. Ignore the interesting plot and focus only on the leader, the team, and the notions of positive peer pressure and adaptive confidence. It may have high payoffs.



  • What does peer pressure look like in a conventional organization?
  • What is positive peer pressure and how is it created?
  • What is the level of adaptive confidence in your people?
  • How could we use this passage to create a positive organization?



Creating Positive Culture

An executive was speaking about leadership. She indicated that that she and her colleagues were trying to create a more positive culture. To do this they were consciously engaging senior people in regular discussions of positive leadership. She described using tools emanating from the Center for Positive Organizations and focusing on examples of when leaders modeled their best self. In illustrating the impact of the efforts she told a story.

In her company, there is a senior executive who is known to be smart and passionate, but at times the characteristics manifest as being abrupt, and frightening. He proposed a new program. All of his people had serious concerns but no one dared to share them.

He walked into a meeting and indicated that he wanted to explore the program. He started with purpose and explained why he believed the program was necessary. This created a sense of vision that was not previously available. It altered some perspectives. He acknowledged his tendency to intimidate. This authenticity was followed by an expression of vulnerability. He indicated that the program was important, and he was in need of their honest feelings. This further altered perspectives. People responded and he listened. The listening brought still more honesty, and ultimately the meeting participants were engaging in how to make the vision reality

The meeting was so productive, that participants began to speak of it as a stellar example of positive leadership. In their corporate discussions, it regularly surfaced. This means that the act of positive leadership not only resulted in a great meeting, it also looped back into the culture and became a point of discussion, a model of positive leadership, and a catalyst for corporate change.

In every act we take, we shape the culture we live in. Most of the time we are complying with the culture and this preserves the status quo. Occasionally we choose to enact our best self and we exceed expectations. This is a moral act that carries moral power. When we enact our best selves, the act violates expectations, attracts attention, and becomes a stimulus for positive change.



  • Why is purpose, authenticity and vulnerability essential to positive leadership?
  • How did this unconventional, positive act become a catalyst for changing culture throughout the organization?
  • Why does celebrating real examples of positive leadership give rise to a positive culture?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Lead From Who You Are Becoming

A senior executive from a Fortune 100 Company was speaking with deep insight about leadership. At one point she indicated that a key proposition is to; “Lead from who you are.” She went on to tell a particularly powerful story about a man who became fully authentic and greatly influenced his people. As she finished, she spoke of development and she said, “We are all a work in progress.”

As I took notes I put stars next to the two sentences. When I went back to review, I examined her two sentences together and I wrote a new sentence; “Lead from who you are becoming.”

When we look at ourselves from a fixed mindset, we see ourselves as a noun. The self is fixed. “Lead from who you are.”

When we look at ourselves from a growth mindset, we see ourselves as a verb. “Lead from who you are becoming.”

Does the difference matter? When I am stagnant, life loses its meaning. I become filled with negative feelings. I tend towards depression and I have shrinking positive influence that sometimes becomes negative influence. When I am growing, life is filled with meaning. I am filled with positive feelings about me, about the world, and about other people. When I look at others I suddenly see potential in them I did not previously see. Why? Because when I am actualizing potential, I see others differently. I see more potential in them than they see in themselves. The best self in not an old self, the best self is the evolving self, the self that is realizing potential in the present moment. When we lead from the evolving self our influence peaks.



  • Who is the most authentic person you know? Is the person stagnant or growing?
  • What does personal growth have to do with personal influence?
  • What could you do today to become more influential?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


Transcending Stress

As individuals we may need to cope with physical illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, abusive treatment, burnout, job loss or other life demands. In organizations we may need to cope with recession, new competitors, regulatory changes, evolving customer preferences and many other such challenges. When these storms hit stress goes up. One way to cope is to self-elevate by entering the fundamental state of leadership.

The essence of the fundamental state of leadership is that answering the following four questions leads to self-transcendence. It puts us in an increased state of virtue, centers us, and increases our influence.

What result do I want to create (Increased sense of purpose)?

Am I internally directed (Increased integrity)?

Am I other focused (Increased empathy)?

Am I externally open (Increased humility)?

I received a message from a person who read my article about the fundamental state of leadership ( (See also the book, Lift: the Fundamental State of Leadership.)

Years ago, after an injury, she indicates that she engaged the “path to insight.” She learned much about who she is. The article about the fundamental state of leadership came to her at a time of challenge. She was not sure she understood it. In the midst of the challenge, someone commented on how calm she seemed. Suddenly she had a realization. She was calm because on the “path to insight” she had learned how to transform in the face of stress. As she pondered this, she realized she already knew how to enter the fundamental state of leadership. Whenever she self-elevates, stress disappears.


  • Why does leadership start within?
  • What happens when we are stressed?
  • What happens to the mind and heart if we have a sudden increase in purpose, integrity, empathy, and humility?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Excellence and Customer Loyalty

A recent blog stated, “While we tend to learn from failure, the positive perspective invites us to identify and ponder manifestations of excellence.” Responding to this line, a relative wrote and shared an experience.

A few years ago a county official decided to try and eliminate competition in the garbage pick-up business. He did this by deciding that only one garbage pickup company could service our county. It was not the garbage service I used. My garbage man regularly would go above and beyond his job. When I forgot to take out my garbage can, he would get out of his truck, walk up my driveway, pull my can out to the road, get back in his truck and dump it. Who does that? When I got the letter that the county was trying to eliminate them from our area I acted. I am not normally one to write letters and sign petitions, but because my garbage man cared enough about giving excellent customer service I could not sit by and not take action. I, along with many others wrote the letters, signed petitions and in the end won the battle. I would not have engaged in this if it had not been for my garbage man going the extra mile to take care of his customer. The garbage man showed positive leadership in taking care of his customers and that helped save his company.

Most learning comes from failure. The positive lens opens an additional possibility. I often state, “If it is real, it is possible.” This means that if we look for and appreciate existing forms of excellence, we can present the excellence we observe and ask others to ponder, not only the “reality of constraint,” but also the “reality of possibility.” This shifts the focus and opens new possibilities.


  • How loyal are our customers or clients?
  • How do our first-line people compare to the garbage collector?
  • In relating to our first-line people do we act like the garbage collector?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



When Does Future Determine the Present?

Occasionally an experience brings me up short. I was in a meeting focused on vision formulation. In previous meetings we prepared for this one. Each session was inspiring. These people were clearly talented and sincere, they wanted a real vision. Now we were very near to the actual specification of the vision. I asked each person to reflect on our previous insights and the possible future. Then I invited them to share their key impressions.

To my surprise, each person spoke of some logistical problem that had to be solved in order to move forward. Each point was legitimate but the exploration was now off track. If I allowed them to continue, they would have created a series of problem solving strategies. There would be no vision of an alternative future. The organization would continue to do what it had been doing. We made adjustments and progressed nicely. Yet I continually return to the experience. It was a potent illustration of the natural tendency in each of us. Based on much research, social scientists assume that people are path dependent. Here is an explanation:

Path dependence is the idea that decisions we are faced with depend on past knowledge trajectory and decisions made, and are thus limited by the current competence base. In other words, history matters for current decision-making situations and has a strong influence on strategic planning (Financial Times Lexicon).

According to this assumption, people tend to be reactive and the present tends to be determined by the past. Reliance on existing knowledge and current competencies leads us to favor knowing over learning, and compliance over creation. Our strategic vision and planning is often reactive rather than strategic.

I often ask, “When does the future determine the present?”

The answer is, when we have a purpose to which we are truly committed. When we imagine and commit to a desired future, the desired future begins to determine what we do in the present. When we wed a future, we break with convention. We begin to engage in unconventional actions and a new future begins to emerge. When we are purpose driven we are still influenced by our past but we are no longer prisoners. We integrate knowledge with desire and it takes us off the path of least resistance. We move from problem solving to purpose finding. This gives rise to learning and creation.


  • In your life, how much time do you spend solving problems and how much time clarifying your highest purpose? What is your highest purpose?
  • In your unit, what is your highest purpose?
  • In your unit, when did you last engage in purpose driven, unconventional actions?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Gratitude Journals & Conversations

An associate recently shared a simple life experience. It has significant implications. Please analyze his account.

Yesterday morning at work, I was feeling pretty flat.  I went down to the gym a little early, thinking a quick workout would help me face the rest of the day.  A colleague walked in and said a cheery hello.  I responded, and I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in my voice.  In my mind I was thinking, “I just need to finish my work out and get out of here.”

But the gratitude entry I wrote yesterday about listening to others came to mind, and that made me more open to what my colleague might say.  We ended up having a really great conversation as we both did our workouts, and I shared with her a concern I had about my work.  She said a couple of things that helped me unlock concerns I had about a meeting I had to attend later.  Near the end of our conversation, I discovered my colleague had recently started keeping a gratitude journal, and she was effusive about its effects.  I shared with her how important it has been to me to keep a gratitude journal as well.

With a renewed sense of peace, I said, “This has been a great conversation.  I’m glad you walked in when you did.  I have to go to a meeting now.  I was dreading it, but I’m not anymore.  Thank you.”  The meeting and the rest of my workday went well.



  • Given his initial feeling what caused a great conversation to emerge?
  • How did what he wrote the previous day influence his new day?
  • How did the conversation alter his future?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



Envisioning the Essential Transformation

This year many baseball fans were impressed by the fact that forty-five year-old Bartolo Colon was still pitching and having success. When he was a rookie he dominated batters by throwing his fastball with extraordinary speed. Now he has success despite a surprising fact. His fastball is the second slowest in the big leagues. Yet he throws the fastball 82.3% of the time, more than any other pitcher. By all normal logic, constantly throwing a slow fastball should result in disaster. He succeeds not because of speed, but because of precise command. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it, the place of greatest weakness for each individual batter.

In an interview, Pedro Martinez, a retired pitcher of great success, commented on Colon’s transformation and continued success. He said the change represents a shift away from “pride.”   It is a shift from relying on “dominance” to relying on “wisdom.” Martinez indicated that such a change is difficult and many are unable to make it.

The observation translates well to leadership. Most managers try to get things done through the assumptions of authority and hierarchical leverage. The orientation assumes dominance and derives from pride. It is difficult for a manager to transform into a leader. A leader does not operate out of pride or authority. A positive leader gains the wisdom to live selflessly and influence without authority. If is a shift few can make. Yet those who do, experience outcomes that others do not.



  • Who in your unit is a manager and who is a leader?
  • What would happen to the organization, if all the managers became wise and turned into leaders?
  • What unusual strategy could bring about this unusual transformation?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Writing & Marketing a Great Book: A Radical Perspective on Who We Really Are

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 9.25.28 AMMarketing makes my skin crawl.  For years my editor, Steve Peirsanti of Berrett-Koehler, has pushed me to attend his company’s workshop for authors.  This year it was being held where I live, excuses were hard to come by, and guilt drove me to attend.  I walked out of the conference with a surprising discovery.  The discovery helps me understand what we are doing on this planet.

The content of the presentations tended to be about best practices and social media.  People spoke of those acts that, when taken, will sell books.  I listened and I wrote down about 25 useful practices.  These were valuable.  As people presented, however, I listened for a deeper message, identified occasional bits, and integrated them into a larger picture.

For me the presentations fell into two camps.  Some speakers had a message that went like this: “I broke the code by changing my perspective and made lots of money by selling myself in the following way.”  Others also spoke of breaking the code, but they had a different message.  It was not such an obvious message; I had to piece it together.  Here are the sound bites I wrote in my notebook:

How to Succeed in Social Media

  • In social media selling does not work, service does
  • Put yourself in the background
  • Remove yourself from your marketing
  • Do not promote yourself, share value
  • Know where you want to show up
  • Serve the people in your lane
  • Be curious
  • Practice empathy for your audience
  • Find out what keeps them up at night
  • Help them with their deepest needs
  • Link your core message to their needs
  • Make sure the core message is authentic
  • Continually refresh your core message
  • Give them inspiration
  • Share your stories
  • Seek out influencers and help them to help others
  • Help the influencers get their message out
  • At the end of your message, give them a place to go for help other than you
  • When you become a true servant, resources will flow to you


A Basic Need

The list reminds me of a basic human need.  I once asked Warren Bennis, the well-known author on leadership, what most drove him when he was young.  He thought for a very long time and then he answered, “I wanted to be heard.”

We all want to be heard because we all want to belong.  We all desire to be valued contributors.  We all want to have a voice, to share a message that makes a difference.  Some of us are shot down in childhood and become convinced we will never have a voice.  After that, we claim we do not desire to be heard.  Some of us recover and pursue the yearning, which leads us to write an article, start a blog, or even write a book.  In the process, the need to be heard transforms into the need for fame and wealth.  Ego reigns.  Ego blinds.  Ego makes our message conventional.

In terms of fame and wealth, the book is basically dead; it is a low probability option.  Today, even some of the most recognized authors publish potent messages but sell very few volumes.  The internet means anyone can publish.  While the likelihood of being heard is still low, you can put your words out there.  All over social media, we see weak messages and vain efforts to be heard.


An Unnatural Jump    

What I took away from the conference was a new recognition of a very old concept.  If we want to be heard, we have to have a unique and universal message. We are most unique when we know and reveal who we really are.  Surprisingly, we are also most universal when we know and reveal who we really are.

It is when we know who we really are that we find the courage to reveal who we really are.  The courage comes from love.  When we discover who we really are, we encounter an evolving, contributing self we can love.  When we do that, ego goals give way to contribution goals.  We love our audience.  We want them to have what we found.

We can do this without a book.  We can have a deeply thoughtful strategy and simply use the internet to serve others.  If we do, we will be heard.  If we are heard, resources will naturally flow back to us.  The key is the unnatural jump from ego to contribution.


The Book

So what is the value of writing a book?  First and foremost, it is a discipline for knowing self and clarifying our most authentic voice.  Getting a proposal through the front door of a publisher is a challenge, and pursuing the proposal until they accept means we believe enough to be resilient.  Resilience automatically brings learning form unusual experience.  We are putting our message out there and getting feedback.  If we are living in purpose over ego, we take the feedback and we grow.  If we quit, it means ego has killed our faith in learning.  We enter the fixed mindset.

Getting the proposal accepted means some professional sees our message as having potential.  That is a temporary affirmation.  The next step is producing the manuscript.  Writing for a truly demanding editor means we are getting an even more intense form of feedback.  Our every sentence is challenged.  As we respond and we rewrite, our words increase in power, in clarity, in authenticity, and in value.  This requires constant clarification of our highest purpose and the constant reigning in of our ego.  Finally publishing the book is a joyful, personal landmark, soon followed by disappointment when sales are less than than imagined.

So what is the payoff?  The payoff is the new relationships we forge with our reading audience. In finding an audience, we find our people.  Once we reach them, we can nurture the relationship and make the effort to better understand and to better serve them.  We can do this through the internet, through speaking events, and through writing still another book, perhaps to only a slightly larger audience.  If we stay constant, as the cycle repeats, we discover more about who we really are and how we can best serve our people.


The Capstone Moment 

At the end of the conference, I shared some of this with the woman sitting next to me.  Her name was La’Wana.  She has a corporate position and she is also an author.  She turned on her laptop and told me she wanted me to see her life mission.  She opened to a beautiful page with the following words, “I am called to live my life as a distribution center, not a storage facility.”

It was as if she opened a curtain and let the sun envelop me.  I had a series of thoughts.  First, maybe everyone should write a book.  Then came the realization: everyone is writing a book.  With every act and with every word, we are producing our message which may or may not be heard.  As I walked out of the conference, I asked myself, “How can I best help everyone write a great book?”  And it occurred to me: maybe I can get into marketing after all.



  • How is authorship the same as leadership?
  • Who are the people in our organization who successfully author positive change?
  • How can we spread their excellence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?