If you will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week, there will be a moment when you look around the room, or look around the table, and the list of things you are thankful will be obvious and apparent. The food, the family and friends around you, and perhaps the football on the TV may all make the list.
In fact those things will make most people’s lists, mine included.
Those things are obvious and easy to be grateful for, and while I don’t mean to discount that list (at all), I want to offer a different, surprising, and perhaps at first even controversial list of things that I believe we as leaders might need to be thankful for.
Resistance. I ask groups all the time what they think of when they think of resistance. Their answers are the same – we all think of resistance in a negative light. And yet, what is resistance, but energy, and caring for the subject. After all would you rather have someone be resistant to your idea or change, or apathetic about it? Resistance is energy, and when there is energy there is the chance to learn from and channel that energy in new and productive ways.
I’m grateful for resistance.
Problems. If you are leader you have problems. People problems, process problems, quality problems, delivery problems . . . you don’t want me to go on. My Dad used to say, the problems are why you have a job (and he was right). So at that basic level it might make sense to be grateful for problems, but the deeper meaning matters more here. Problems give us opportunities to improve – they startle our senses and shake us from the status quo. Without problems, the road to improvement would be much harder.
For these reasons and more, I’m grateful for problems.
Mistakes. We’ve all learned from mistakes. In fact, one of the most powerful ways to learn is through the personal discovery that comes from trial and error. Think about it – someone can tell us about a mistake they made, and we can shake our head, but the learning is more powerful when we felt the burn on our fingers after we touched the hot stove. Why would we worry about mistakes, as long as people are making them in pursuit of a worthy goal? As a leader we must celebrate mistakes, as they are a great way to learn.
I (really am) grateful for mistakes.
“Difficult” People. Wouldn’t life be easier if everyone was like me? I mean, I’d never have to try to figure out behaviors I don’t understand and things would be smooth as glass. Except this would be a very boring existence. And then I would have to do tasks I don’t like and am not very good at. Difficult people aren’t really difficult, it is their behaviors that may be difficult. Having people around me who are different than me makes life frustrating at times, but also richer, fuller and much less boring.
I am grateful for the people I can interact with and learn from, even if they might be “difficult” sometimes.
Feedback. It is easy to be grateful for accolades and positive feedback, and I believe as leaders (and humans) we should be grateful for that, and we need to be grateful for the other kind of feedback too. The challenging, critical, stinging feedback may not be what we want to hear, but it may be exactly what we need to hear. It might be hard to be grateful for it in the moment, but you won’t have to search your memory very long to find some feedback you resisted or hated at the time, that made a real difference in your life later. Why not reduce the delay and be more grateful for it sooner?
I’m grateful to get feedback that helps me improve.
Perspective. This one might be least surprising or controversial, and with this one, you will be better able to see the rest on this list as blessings in disguise. The older I get and the longer I lead, the more I believe perspective is one of the gifts that helps us succeed as a leader and in life. And I am so grateful that I have that perspective and have lots of opportunities to gain more of it.
Now that I have given you a short list, I urge you to add to it for yourself. Allow yourself a chance to reflect on things that you see as challenges, and look for the value and blessing inside. That change in perspective might be the best gift you could give yourself today, or any day.