On Being Thankful

by Gary Burnison

It happened at a gas station in Minnesota, a dozen years ago.

Doug Klares, one of our firm’s leaders, was waiting for an egg salad sandwich at a convenience store when he picked up a slightly crumpled newsletter lying on the counter. Humble looking, with holiday clip-art graphics, that newsletter from the operations leader at the gas station chain was hardly something you’d expect to make a lasting impact on someone’s life.

Then Doug started reading.

Name the six wealthiest people in the world…. Name seven people who were honored as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year…. Name the winners of the Super Bowl for the past five years…. Name four of the biggest selling box office movies in the last twelve years….

Doug couldn’t come up with more than a name or two—and that was precisely the point. The same thing happened to me when he shared the newsletter, just the other day.

Then came the epiphany from that newsletter.

Name a teacher who made an impact on your life…. Name one friend who has always been there for you…. Think of someone who inspired you to be better….

A lot easier to answer, isn’t it?

These are the people who truly influence our lives—who, by their words and actions, genuinely make a difference. Simply because they care.

So, I asked, “Who is on your list?”

Doug didn’t hesitate to answer. “My dad,” he replied, his voice choked with emotion. “I lost him on 9/11.”

No wonder he has kept that gas station newsletter all these years. In that extraordinary wisdom, from the most ordinary of places, he finds comfort and a constant reminder of the person who had the greatest impact on his life.

Connective and cathartic, our memories of those who have made a difference in our lives help define who we are, how far we’ve come, and just how capable we’ve become. For some, that message is a pick-me-up in a challenging time in their career. For others, guidance on how to lead by meeting people where they are. And for all, it offers a thankful perspective.

So, who are we grateful for? And do we strive to be all that they have been for us—as a leader, a colleague, a friend?

Because here’s the thing, it’s never just about the title, the role, or anything else we aspire to. First, last, and always—leadership is about inspiring others to believe and enabling that belief to become reality. Indeed, this is the emotional, even spiritual, part of leadership.

Two of the most powerful words anyone can say are “Thank you.” So easy to say, but so often overlooked. To all our colleagues, clients, friends, and those we meet along the way, I wish you an abundance of joy, happiness, and love. And to those of you in the U.S., a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving.



Originally written by Gary Burnison at Kornferry.com.