Develop a Spirit of Gratitude!


In my 20+ years of leadership, I draw a complete blank trying to think of a great leader I’ve studied who didn’t show a spirit of gratitude.

If that statement sounds odd to you, just take some time to read or listen to your favorite leaders. I will almost guarantee they use “thank you” regularly but also genuinely. Why is this important?

Well, to me it’s important because it’s almost impossible to be bitter when you make it a habit to be grateful. And bitterness is one of those traits that will hold you back as a leader.

Think about where bitterness comes from:

You didn’t get something you felt like you earned, or someone else got something you should have gotten.

Someone else’s success drives you crazy.

You deserve…

And there it is…entitlement.

I gave a talk to a group of young leaders recently about entitlement. It’s a great topic because when you ask for thoughts on that word, most people associate entitlement with the mentality of a specific group of people, or with a political stance.

But if we’re honest, we all have it inside us. We believe we deserve certain things, or certain recognition. The more we let those thoughts sink in, the more bitter we become until we settle into the entitlement trap…the feeling that no matter what we have, we constantly need more to be satisfied or content.

The truth is, with that mentality, nothing we can ever achieve or accumulate will ever be good enough. Guaranteed!

So how do we fight it?

In his book The Entitlement Cure, Dr. John Townsend recommends changing “I deserve” to “I am responsible”. That little shift in perspective changes everything about how you approach everything. If you “deserve”, you’re more prone to sit back and wait for it to happen (and it most likely won’t). If you are “responsible”, it shifts your mindset to a pro-active approach. “I have to take action for this to happen”.

Simple but brilliant. I agree 100%.

But I wouldn’t stop here. I would add one more thing:

Take a look at what you’re putting into your mind.

How do you start your day? Do you feed yourself political junk? Do you jump on social media and sink into all the polarizing posts of the day? What is the first information you are putting in your mind each day?

When I ask this question, most people I’ve met (who want to get better in this area) admit they probably don’t have the right focus to start their day. So to fight this, I have them audit what they’re reading or listening to for a week. Once we discover the junk they’re putting in, we get buy-in on how to make a change.

And that change is to focus on all the reasons each of us has to be grateful.

It’s a true spirit of gratitude for all the positive things in your life. A successful business, a loving family, your health, resources to spend on yourself or others, etc.

And as I mentioned here, it’s taking the time to recognize others for their impact on your life.

Try this for one week. Every morning, instead of pulling up social media or watching political TV, spend 5-10 minutes writing down things from the day before that you are grateful for. Find something positive to read to yourself and do it daily for one week (if you need ideas, comment below and I’ll send you some). Eliminate the temptation to check into Facebook or to read/listen to anything political.

Then do it for another week. Then another week. After a month, it’ll be a habit and you’ll be a different person. You’ll find yourself much more present and aware in your day-to-day life. You won’t be focused on what you don’t have or what you “deserve” but will live in real appreciation for all that is good in your life.

And that’s the mindset the most successful leaders have.

It’s contagious too.

Just wait and see the impact you’ll have on those around you.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought from Zig Ziglar – “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”



Catch ’em Doing Something Right!


This edition is for anyone who finds themselves trying to lead with positivity. I cannot overemphasize the importance of recognition when someone “gets it right”, but hear me when I tell you this is especially important in an environment that is fast-paced where perfection is the expectation. In a high-accountability environment, leaders are prone to focus on what didn’t go right and miss opportunities all around them to recognize what did. If you want to be a leader who earns the appreciation of those who follow you because they know you appreciate their efforts, this is for you. I’ve split my advice into two parts:

  1.  looking for recognition opportunities from outside your organization, and…
  2. recognizing those on your internal team.

I hope you are able to get a couple of good ideas through my stories here.

External: I’m a high maintenance relationship professionally because I expect anyone we do business with to be as perfect as we want to be. That means I lean hard on anyone I refer to a client because the client sees that referral partner as an extension of our team. They also associate their experience with any introduction I make as a part of the overall experience doing business with us. It can make or break whether they come back or never call us again.  I also hold them to a very high standard on how they treat anyone on my team(s) because the people I lead deserve the same respect and professionalism extended to our clients. So when an interaction falls short of perfection, I’m letting them know about it and working to find out how it could have been handled better. But please hear me on this…if that’s all I ever do, no one will ever think it’s worth working hard for me. I have to find opportunities to praise them when they hit the mark as well.

This past week, we had a professional partner of ours really go out of her way to help a member of our team at a crucial time in the month when we really needed her to come through. Knowing how difficult it can be to meet our expectations, she could have easily decided there was no way to make it work and move on to helping another client. But she put us at the top of the list and really came through. On my drive home that day, I called her boss to brag on her, but she answered the phone. So I let her know right there how much I appreciated her coming through for us and let her know I was really calling her boss to brag on her. We also sent her a little surprise to her office this week as an additional sign of our appreciation. Her boss called me today and let me know that it made her weekend that I had taken the time to recognize her, and that I would go to the trouble of letting him know about her effort. Now let all that sink in. Simple gesture to recognize her effort by taking a minute to call, along with a personalized ‘thank you’ from me just as a cherry on the top. Simple! Do you think she’ll remember that the next time we need to lean on her to perform for us or a client? Do you think she’ll make our relationship a priority for years to come? Of course she will. Not because she has to or because she gets paid to, but because she wants to.

Internal: Have I mentioned before that we have a high-accountability environment? As I’ve said, it’s not easy to work for us. But I make it easy to work for me. If you’re on one of my teams, I go out of my way to make sure you know where you stand, how you’re doing, and find ways to show appreciation for the effort you bring. If I do that well, I never have to question whether you’re going to work hard for me, and you never have to question that I’m looking for ways to be your advocate. Something I do every week is write hand-written thank-you notes to people on our team, even if it’s just to tell them I noticed something they did. At first, I had to set a calendar reminder, because it was something I did verbally all the time, but I had to force myself to do it via a written note. And the impact of that is multiples over a passing comment in the hall. But sometimes, I’ll get really creative to make an even bigger impact.

Last winter, I took several of our leaders on an off-site to chart out a growth plan for the year, and also to better define some job descriptions for several of our positions in the company. I was taking these leaders away from their families for 3 days and I decided to write a note to each of their spouses and mail it to them, to arrive the day after we left. The note was a simple ‘thank you’ for allowing me to take up their honey’s time and a promise from me that I was doing my part as their leader to help them advance their career. Each note was personalized with something I appreciated about their spouse and how they were fortunate to have great support at home. Several of those leaders told me later, once they found out I had written their spouse, how much it was appreciated that I would take the time to do that. But also, it was appreciated that I recognized a spouse’s role in supporting their development. Little things like this are huge and go a long way. Now, when I need to lean on my team to put in the extra hours or to travel for the company, I can be confident they are supported from home, and that is huge for a developing leader. Also, by doing something simple like this, I have earned serious relationship credibility with these leaders when I have to hold them accountable. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that if you don’t make a point to recognize someone for getting it right, you will ultimately build resentment among your team and be surrounded by people who will work just hard enough to keep the job. Why in the world would you want that when it takes only a little extra effort on your part to get the best and most out of everyone daily?

You can steal these ideas if you want, but I think you should also be able to use your creativity to come up with ways you can accomplish the same results. Put it on your calendar to start if you have to, but do it. And do it over again, and again until it becomes a habit. It won’t take long for you to see the fruit of it in your professional relationships. Don’t forget, as you climb the ladder and continue to achieve success, you will need to lean on these people more and more to ensure your organization is staying relevant to those you serve. Don’t make it harder on yourself by only being hard on them. They’ll gladly reward your recognition with a loyalty money can’t buy.

Lessons from the National Champ’s Coach

I’ve always felt like I led with positivity, but I’ve run into my fair share of leaders who feel like positive leadership is soft and ineffective. Regardless, I’ve stuck with what comes naturally to me and I’ve found it to be quite effective. It is absolutely possible to build relationships with people, encourage them to be their best, lift them up, and also be able to hold them accountable when they fall short. I find myself being almost entirely forward-focused, which means I never dwell in the past and I use the present to set the vision for the desired future.

It’s worked for me in my 20 years of leadership. Here’s another guy it works for. NCAA Football’s reigning National Champs head coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo is head coach of the Clemson Tigers, and he’s brought a struggling Clemson program back to life over the past several seasons. This turn-around culminates with Clemson having been to the title game the last two years. The first trip they were beat by Alabama, arguably the best college football program in NCAA history. But in the second trip, Clemson beat Alabama. What follows, I believe all the way to my core, is why Clemson beat Alabama that last game.


I’ve recently read Jon Gordon’s book The Power of Positive Leadership in which he tells several stories about Dabo’s positive leadership. Two stories stuck out to me from the book, and both reveal how great a leader he is, using his positivity to lead, get the best out of others, and get results.

First, when Tommy Bowden resigned as the Clemson coach in 2008, Dabo was the wide receiver coach and was named as the interim head coach. In his first meeting with the athletic director and the board of trustees, they shared their vision with him of becoming a program like Michigan or Georgia. His response? “No offense, but my vision is much greater than that. My vision is to create a program all those other schools want to be like.” It all started there, when he brought two signs into his office. One sign said “Believe” and one said “I Can’t” with the ‘t’ crossed out. When he took over as coach, the team was .500. The next year they went 9-5. After one year at 6-6, he has since led Clemson to 10 or more wins in every season.

Then, as his 14-1 team headed to the locker room after losing to Alabama in the 2015 championship game, his positivity shines again. Where many coaches would focus on what players did wrong or what the team didn’t get done, he said this: “I have never been more proud of a group of men than I am right now, we just didn’t make enough good plays to beat a team as good as Alabama. You seniors, you have created a legacy that will live on, and you underclassmen, get ready ’cause we’re coming back!” As Jon Gordon describes in the book, Dabo went on to talk about his vision for training camp the next season and how they were going to win the national championship because they were going to be better than everyone else. He got every player to believe and buy in right there.

Of course you know the rest. So for those of you who are watching other leaders and wondering if your positive approach to leadership can lead you to success, the answer is a resounding YES! It’s absolutely possible to lead with positivity and still have a culture of vision, drive, passion, focus, and the pursuit of continued improvement. You just have to start in the right place. Some leaders will only focus on process and forget about people. Not me, and you shouldn’t either, because relationship is at the very core of being able to hold others accountable. To quote Dabo Swinney – “We are absolutely process-driven, but we are relationship-driven first. It’s relationships that drive our processes.” And to be very frank with you, it works. At the beginning of the 2017 NCAA season, the 3 teams on top of the polls were Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida State. Those are 3 powerhouse teams almost every year. Guess what team handed each of them their last loss in the 2016 season? You already know, don’t you?

When a Billionaire Talks, You Listen


Today’s message is short and sweet, but powerful. This past week we had the honor of having Jesse Itzler speak to our team during a staff meeting. He’s part of the ownership of the Atlanta Hawks, the co-founder of Marquis Jet, a New York Times best-selling author, and he’s married to Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. His book Living With a Seal has made a big splash, and if you haven’t read it you should stop reading this, go read the book, then come back here.

Living With A Seal – Jesse Itzler

Welcome back! Jesse’s book hits on so many topics that are important to leaders. Determination, mental strength, perseverance, and creativity to name just a few. But what I wanted to hit on today for the new leader is the power of story. When Jesse spoke to our team, his story was a hodgepodge of positive and negative turns throughout his life. And it was evident that each of them taught him something, not only about himself but about how to be successful in life. And now that he’s achieved success at a very high level, he wants to use those experiences to help others. That’s what great leaders do.

So you’re probably thinking “I am not the co-founder of Marquis Jet, I’m not part of the ownership of the Atlanta Hawks, I’m not married to the founder of Spanx.” Neither was he at one point. And now that you’ve read the book, you know the key to his success. He just wouldn’t quit, or take no for an answer. He also saw strengths that other people possessed, and if he wanted to meet them to learn from them, he went after it. And, even after he had achieved great financial success, he still had to know what kept SEAL (from the book) pushing past most peoples’ physical limits.  I’ve shared before how doing the things no one else is willing to do will ultimately separate you from everyone else, and this is one of those areas. Jesse was willing to overcome a fear of going after what he wanted. Today he credits many of his successes and relationships to “picking up the phone and calling people”. Be willing to seek out others to learn from them, their stories, and their strengths. Successful people will almost always give you their time.

Fast forward, and now you’re the successful one. You’ll have people behind you in life who are seeking you out. Give them your time. Tell them your story. Help shape their success. Again, using your experiences to help others is something great leaders do. So if you get nothing else out of what you read above (or Jesse’s book), remember that, and let it shape how you influence those around you.

Think Like an Owner


One of the best pieces of advice I can give the new leader to help you gain relevance is to develop the ability to think like an owner. Rather than give you written advice this time though, I thought it would be perfect to let you listen to a podcast I did with our Director of Training and Communication, JJ. He’s also the producer for the podcast I co-host with the Founder and CEO of Memphis Invest. We recorded this episode of The Experience Matters Podcast while Kent was traveling, but I think it’s perfectly relevant to the topic at hand. JJ and I also discuss Millennials and the bad rap given to that generation. There’s a little something for everyone in this one…enjoy!

Here’s a link to listen straight from Soundcloud… – Simple Advice Series: Think Like an Owner