Grateful Leadership

Grateful Leadership

As Thanksgiving approaches, this is the time of year when we reflect on the things that we want to be thankful for. 


The first Thanksgiving is attributed to a commemoration of the first harvest after the Pilgrims arrived in the new world.  Seeking religious freedom, they endured a cross Atlantic journey for which only half of them survived.  They were greeted warmly by Native Americans who taught them the skills that they needed to feed themselves and survive in this strange new world.  After their first corn harvest proved successful in 1621, the Pilgrims had what was believed to be the first Thanksgiving during a celebratory feast. 

They were extremely grateful for where they were and what happened.  Perhaps the magnitude of this gratitude is lost during these more modern times.  Before we consider such feats trivial consider that as we discover new exoplanets maybe a group of modern day pilgrims will survive a trek to one of these brave new worlds and some way … somehow, survive.  Imagine that the friendly inhabitants of this alien planet give us tips and tricks of surviving and we are able to endure through the unearned series of circumstances that follow.   As we reflect on Thanksgiving, I think it’s easy to forget the magnitude of the risk, danger, and loss that the Pilgrims endured as they reflected on the past with gratitude.   


Sometimes gratitude is expressed in relative terms.  In other words, it depends on where you are and where the giver is. 

My sister Loreen often talks about a wedding gift that she got.  It was a scant few dollars.  But, it was from the groom’s aunt who didn’t have much money.  She had only a few dollars, yet, she gave this young couple $5.  The spirit of sacrifice and love in which the gift was given was immeasurable.  We often forget about that and look at things in absolute terms and forget the context in which the gift is given.

I was talking to one of my piano students Lourdes about the meaning of the song, The Little Drummer Boy.  She played it without meaning or feeling.  I had enough and tried to explain to her that this poor little boy gave the best that he had to give – he played his drum.  He played the best he ever played; even the animals thought it was a hoot.  Lourdes got it.  She came back the next week playing that song with new found meaning and emotion.


The author, Wayne Dyer, challenges us to “… Develop an attitude of gratitude for all that manifests into your life. [and] … Be thankful and filled with awe and appreciation, even if what you desire hasn’t arrived yet. Even the darkest days of your life are to be looked on with gratitude.”  He further challenges us in The Power of Intention to “…go on a rampage of appreciation for all you have, all that you are, and all that you observe.”

As leaders, our attitude of gratitude has the supernatural power to inspire and motivate people to do amazing things.  DiAnne Arbour encourages us to “…Pick up the phone or send an email or a note, thanking those who help to keep your flame lighted. Your rewards are deeper relationships, improved morale, increased productivity and higher achievement.”  As I read this, I remembered that last week was a rough week physically for me.  Twice, two different people did small things to help me that were larger in magnitude than it seemed.  They gave me a drink of water.  These small acts were large in magnitude as it helped me battle my cold and endure a parched sore throat and get through some major milestones. 

Yeah, it was a really rough week last week.  My rental car broke down and I missed my flight from L.A. to Washington, DC.  I started to cry.  Then I thought of all the things I was grateful for: that drink of water, a chance to rest, Vanilla Latte, and a fully charged battery for my Blackberry hidden in the bowels of my rolling bag.  Missing my flight wasn’t so bad after all.  I had a few hours to reflect on all the things I was thankful for.  It was a very good day.    

Thank you.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA