By Timothy Askew; reprinted from Inc. with the kind permission of Timothy Askew.
“All the days of the afflicted are bad, but one with a grateful heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15
November is the month of Thanksgiving and the day itself comes around next week. As an entrepreneur and as a human being it is my favorite holiday of the year–by far. It is, of course, a refreshing pause from daily business tsuris, as well as the only holiday devoted to pure gratitude for… everything — all our abundance and our very existence.
But it is also a reminder that thankfulness is a key to business health.
I’ve always believed it is the simple things that make for success in business. Not the brilliant, not the celebrated, not the strategically complex. One of those simple things is the act of saying “Thank you.” Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I always take time to say it, to mean it, to write it, to email it, even to tweet it (much as I hate the patent superficiality of that particular social medium. WTF.) As Texas journalist and poet William Arthur Ward put it, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
For example, as CEO of my executive sales boutique Corporate Rain, I’m constantly talking to other CEOs and their executive assistants. All day long, in fact. Certainly, any meetings I set up begin with emails and conversations, particularly with executive assistants and even receptionists. I genuinely am grateful, particularly to these assistants, for their care in making my time efficient and specific. No matter how busy my day, I take time to express my gratitude for their effort.
It just feels great to say “Thank you.” with sincerity and a whole heart–not because an aide or an assistant is a person of importance, per se, but because it opens up my essential being to a trope of generosity and service before the “actual” business conversation begins. Like so many little courtesies, it is the selfish thing to do. And here I again hark back to my frequently repeated mantra, “Good is greed.” In fact, research increasingly shows that thanking folks not only results in reciprocal generosity (where the thanked person is more likely to help the thanker), but stimulate eleemosynary behavior in general (Note the work of Adam Grant of Wharton and Francesca Gino at Harvard.).
Saying thank you is an emotional act. It doesn’t just acknowledge someone’s effort, kindness, intent, or action. It recognizes the person himself. It’s even more important than acknowledging the principal person you are doing business with because it sets a tone for discussion. And it is a winning tone. When you suffuse your preliminary actions with gratitude, it shines out of you as a penumbra of generosity.
Theologian and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hung by the Nazis 23 days before the Allied victory in Europe), said this about gratitude: “Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts….We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?” (Life Together; The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community )
I am thankful for the opportunity to write this column. I am thankful for everyone who reads my business essays. Thanksgiving means gratitude. And gratitude engenders reciprocity. It helps me catalyze the desire to make a positive difference. Gratitude nurtures generosity. Gratitude undergirds everything in everybody that is good and whole. Gratitude is the vehicle and fertilizer for the flourishing of my future success as an entrepreneur and as a citizen of the world. As Marcel Proust notes in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Lovely and true.
Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart put it this way: “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” Indeed, Meister. Indeed. Happy Thanksgiving!
Tim Askew is the owner of sales firm Corporate Rain International and a member of the Inc. Business Owners Council. He has several advanced degrees, and has been a tennis pro, actor, opera singer, Broadway producer, dishwasher, bartender, minister, and college assistant dean. Askew is the author of the new book The Poetry of Small Business (available on Amazon). @TimothyAskew