Leadership - The Art of Gratitude and Reflection

Leadership is an art form.  To become a master in any art form requires commitment, practice, and continual learning.  You move from being good to being exceptional. You become a master.  

So let me be very personal this week.  As a leader, I highly value cultivating mastery in the art of gratitude and reflection. These two “being traits” are precursors to the “doing traits” of inspiring, focusing, aligning, and motivating others.  On a personal level, if I do not take time out for daily reflection, anchored in a grateful heart, my energy is depleted and my ability to connect with others diminishes.  

I have committed to two simple habits every day that move me toward mastery with gratitude.  Believe me, I don’t always feel like doing these every day, but I know the benefits and the costs of the choice I make.  

  1. As each day begins, I start with a morning meditation.  I begin with gratitude - what am I grateful for, who I am grateful for.  I expand it beyond God, my wife and family.  I think about my clients and the people who work with me.  I enumerate what makes me grateful for the opportunity to work in collaboration with these people.  The results always surprise me with the positive energy that accrues toward these people.   
     
  2. In the same way, I end each day with a spirit of gratitude.  I make a point of not focusing on what did not go well in the day, but focus instead on what did go well and the chance to still be engaged daily in a worthy calling.  I don’t write things out, but I do work through people and events in my mind.  Dr. David Sack has done compelling research on gratitude.  People with asymptomatic heart failure showed that “simply by writing about things they were grateful for, it lead to improvement in heart rate.”  Gratitude can be healing.  

The twin sister of gratitude is what I call “soft reflection” — letting your mind wander in a peaceful way so it can connect dots you least expect.  “Soft reflection” or “soft focus” is different than “hard focus,” where you try to solve an immediate issue right in front of you.  Many of the most creative moments in history have occurred in a space of “soft refection.”  Einstein was moving through a village when he noticed a clock tower and how it changed as he moved.  It was a key moment in developing his theory of relativity.  “Soft reflection” creates space for higher-order problem solving.  Dr. Stayer, who recently contributed to an article for National Geographic, says that a walk in nature is one of the best stimulants for “soft reflection.”  The general beauty in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest.  He says the frontal cortex can be like an overused muscle.  By dialing down the command center, the brain engages in random thoughts that often leap out as connection points for how to solve a problem you were not even consciously thinking about.  The soft reflection of nature connects the heart and mind in ways that no amount of hard focus can accomplish.  

To cultivate mastery in “soft reflection,” I have one daily habit.  I work to find at least fifteen minutes in nature.  I walk alone along the beach, around the block, or in the hills.  It’s amazing to me how beneficial I find these walks to be.  And, of course, as I stroll in the midst of natures’ beauty, I inevitably feel gratitude.  

Just for fun, over the past seven days, I made a point of actually capturing my moments in nature.  Here are three shots I took, all from Laguna Beach.   

 Trail walk behind my home.  I rarely see anyone on the trail.

Trail walk behind my home.  I rarely see anyone on the trail.

 Sunset walk at Heisler Park - filled with people.

Sunset walk at Heisler Park - filled with people.

 Early evening walk at Aliso Creek

Early evening walk at Aliso Creek

You may be saying, “I don’t have time for 15 minute walks!”  if that’s the case, try simple alternatives.  Eye doctors say that every 60 minutes you should get up from behind a desk and gaze out to an horizon for at least 5 minutes.  Staying in a room and gazing at a wall doesn’t count.  If you spend too much time with close-in focus, your eyes become nearsighted. Ironic, huh? If you are looking at things right under your nose too long, you lose the ability to see the horizon.

I think most every one agrees that gratitude and taking time to quietly reflect are good ideas.  Transforming these two ideals into a masterful art form in your leadership journey is a step beyond.  I’m committed to the journey and always exploring.  

Where are you?
Is it important?  
Are you happy with where you are today?  
Would you do anything different?  
If so, what?