Francis Fukuyama, the philosopher, famously stated at the end of the 20th century: “We have reached the end of history. Liberal, Western, Democratic Capitalism is the end of history. Never will there be a system that produces more things. Never will there be a system that produces more things for people who already have everything.” This statement has struck a chord and has led to various discussions and debates by academics, especially in anthropology, economy, philosophy, and sociology.
The sociologist Tony Campolo comments on the thoughts of Fukuyama: “That is why, at Christmas time, you run into the shops, praying and hoping that somewhere, someone has invented something new, so that you can buy it for your children, who already have everything.”
We all subscribe to this theory of more! Because we already have everything, and somehow everything is not enough for us as human beings. Richard Svenson, the psychologist writes:
“Progress uses a simple formula to generate success. It is a one-trick pony, a specialist. Its specialty is the four-letter word more, and its advertising slogan is “More and more of everything faster and faster.” Progress does not care what kind of more — we can now choose from millions of goods and services, from bassinets to bombs, from penicillin to pornography — just as long as people are willing to pay for it.”
We have created this system of more, and it has become so powerful, and the belief in it so radical that we have started to serve the system, and the system no longer serves our needs. In a way we have relinquished control to this system, and it may be that we do not realise it, but we will do anything to keep the system alive. We will bail out big business and talk about “too big to fail”. Governments will deliberately overlook blatant corruption, just as long as the system is kept alive to give us more. World-renowned audit firms in my country South Africa are implicated in some of the most jaw-dropping theft of taxpayers’ money in the history of the African continent. It all happened because we are serving the system we created, and that is the system of more.
It gets to all of us. It works very subtlety. Therefore, most leaders fall prey to the system of more and sacrifice deeply held core values to get more and achieve more. The system of more eventually takes its toll on the leader, the organisation, and the people that they serve. As a business, we have consulted, coached, and trained in many corporates, where leaders develop discontentment with their teams and keep pushing them for more and more while cutting budgets in the process. After a few months, when the results of more do not come, the leader applies even more pressure on his team, which then leads to burnout, anxiety, broken relationships, and, eventually, a high staff turnover. This scenario has been the go-to leadership style of so many leaders that we have worked with. The reality is that we cannot blame them because their leadership is driven by the system. We created the system, and now the system creates us
THE SERVANT LEADER PRACTICES THE PRINCIPLE GRATITUDE
Servant Leaders feel called to move against the system of more. Servant Leaders believe that it is possible to provide and produce more, while not falling victim to the system of more. It is possible to have a team that offers better results for shareholders and customers while celebrating their success and enjoying their work in a culture where they feel valued as human beings.
This is made possible when the leader leads their teams in practising gratitude. Gratitude is that positive feeling after achieving your goals and expressing that to your team members. It is a feeling of thankfulness for where you are in your life, the fact that you have a job, and the fact that your skills contribute towards a bigger picture.
Too often we meet leaders who show and express little or no gratitude, and instead, they immediately start focusing on the next targets or goals. So, once you hit your quarterly target profits, the next day, you devise plans for the next quarter. This is the mind-numbing cycle that forces us to serve the system of more. The Servant Leader refuses to serve a system that reduces humans to mere objects of profit generation. They stop and practice gratitude with their teams and organisations. And the good news is that research and science is on the side of the Servant Leader.
Science shows that humans who practice gratitude have a greater sense of wellbeing, higher self-esteem, and experience a lot less anxiety and burnout. They are happier and sleep much better. Gratitude plays a significant role in life satisfaction. At work, 80% of humans are prepared to work harder if they have a leader who shows gratitude and appreciation to the team. Studies show that less than 15% of leaders show regular and appropriate appreciation to their teams. Some studies estimate that more than 35% of employees never get thanked personally for their contribution towards the goals of the company.
Social science points to the fact that gratitude is the glue for building great relationships at work. It binds teams and leaders together. Teams that show gratitude towards each other, experience an increased level of grace for each other. Gratitude also increases grit, which leads to a more dedicated and effective team.
Because of the science behind gratitude and just the sheer humanity, it exhibits Servant Leaders never miss an opportunity to show gratitude and celebrate their people. The principle of gratitude is at the core of creating an engaged and productive team. This practice can be learned and cultivated by all leaders in the work environment and makes a tangible difference to the culture of the team. Here are some practical ways to practice the principle of gratitude:
1. CELEBRATE PEOPLE AND THEN RESULTS
Servant Leaders who inspire us with their gratitude, have developed the habit of celebrating their people. In one corporate company, an Executive will celebrate each team member’s birthday. At the celebration, there is a great appreciation for the character of the individual, their values and their skills. Their lives are celebrated and not what they have produced for the business. This, by the way, leads to incredible results. And once the results are in, they are also celebrated, and everybody’s contribution gets recognised. Even if the results are not that good, Servant Leaders still celebrate their people.
Celebration is vital in retaining people, building their morale, and keeping them engaged in their roles.
2. SAY THANK YOU
Servant Leaders do not take their people and what they do for granted, and therefore they will often thank their people for their work. The best way to do this in our experience and that produces the best response is by a hand-written note or card. It is personal, and it is essential to focus on the specifics of what you are thanking them for. Keep it sincere, short, and authentic.
3. START MEETINGS BY EXPRESSING GRATITUDE
Servant Leaders know that they need to give people perspective. In a system where we constantly focus on what we do not have, we might fall into the trap of discontentment and sometimes even bitterness. Therefore, Servant Leaders start all their meetings by having attendees answering the following question: “What am I really grateful for right now?”. This could be something personal or something from work. What is important is that it gives people a perspective before the meeting begins. This practice is a breath of fresh air that brings contentment into a room full of discontentment.
If this is well established, you can have people express their concerns, after the meeting is over. This reinforces the humanity of your people and that their concerns are valid. What is important to note is that with the expressions of gratitude and concerns, no comments are allowed. What people feel is valid, appreciated, and recognised.
4. HAVE A GRATITUDE WALL AT THE OFFICE
This is a place where people can write down what they are thankful for. They can write their names next to their comments, or they can do it anonymously. This wall shows the state of the team and all the things they are grateful for. Once again, the Servant Leader is helping the team develop a perspective of contentment. By having the opportunity to express your gratitude, you feel valued and that you are a part of the team.
Progress is not in itself evil and all-consuming. We were created to be creative and improve life and the lives of humanity. We are made to progress and get better. Servant Leaders believe this, and they work hard and with a clear purpose to improve the lives of others. They want their people to realise their full potential.
Servant Leaders are also aware of the pitfalls of progress and how it has become a terrible master to so many, relentless in expecting results and producing many casualties along the way. With this awareness Servant Leaders bring to the table the principle of gratitude, that is modelled in an efficient way by the leader. Practices are put in place at work to challenge the perspective of progress at all costs. Employees learn to see their privilege, as well as their value as human beings. They are appreciated and thanked for who they are, as well as the contribution that they make with their skills and hard work.
Servant Leaders get excellent performance when they make their people feel valued. They create this culture and environment of value, through practices of celebration and thankfulness, so that the principle of gratitude is firmly embedded in the culture of the organisation.
Author and Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director @ TTLI (LinkedIn Bio https://www.linkedin.com/in/hermann-du-plessis-01b17618/)