“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” – James M. Barrie, early 20th century Scottish author
It is an intrinsically human and soulful quality that can be embodied by any human being, simply because he or she is human.
Accordingly, the source of one’s leadership must also naturally originate within a human being: it must necessarily be derived from some commonly shared emotion, trait, attribute or combination of them.
In other words, because to lead is to simply be human, the foundation for anyone’s leadership—the tools, methods, practices, beliefs and exertions of individual leadership—must similarly originate from some common source that all human beings already possess and can discover and repeatedly access.
The question then becomes, what is this source?
What can we each—regardless of social status, job title, wealth, fame or followers—repeatedly access by choice alone that will help us formulate a foundation for becoming leaders without followers?
Regardless of your place in life, you’ll discover the single-most profound key to a sense of inner leadership and lasting happiness through an often-overlooked—yet wildly powerful—human quality: gratitude.
Gratitude—everyday thankfulness and, ultimately, a personified awareness of gratefulness—will help you to cultivate a profound and long-lasting sense of leadership.
As you find your inner sense of leadership, you’ll experience a natural “want” to help and give to others, to aid those in need, to empower those who are without and to inspire the people around you. Gratitude is the first step, the earliest originating point, the beginning source.
But gratitude just doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?
And when we’re discussing a radical redefinition of what it means to be a leader—and how that redefinition can spark an incredible leadership revolution throughout our entire world—saying “thank you” doesn’t quite seem to be the proverbial magic pill.
That sentiment is certainly valid.
There is, indeed, little allure to “thankfulness” as a plausible remedy to any of the “real” problems in our lives, especially in an age of over-sexed infomercial remedies and instant-fix products packaged as solutions.
Further, the power of gratitude is somewhat diluted because its usage has become so commonplace in everyday interactions and conversations.
The prevalence of “thank you” would be great, if the phrase weren’t so often deployed as little else than a polite formality to conclude a passing, meaningless exchange.
However, genuine gratitude is far more than just saying “thanks.”
This commonly overlooked human emotion actually reveals the very method that will help you achieve an effortless source of motivation and inspiration for your profound sense of inner leadership—and, further, may reveal the single greatest force for lasting happiness in our entire world.
Gratitude: The Foundation of All Leadership
How Thankfulness Opens Up Avenues of All Giving and Loving
Gratitude is more than remembering to say, “thank you.”
Gratitude is how you live—both within yourself and amongst others. Being grateful is far more than a fleeting emotion that comes from dropping the remaining change from your latte into a tip jar.
Gratitude is happiness in its purest, most simple but long-lasting form—it is simple contentment with what is and what isn’t, a joyous sense and appreciation for life in its completeness.
As a leader without followers, gratitude is a serene, effortless state of being through which you embody a humble, perpetual exertion of pure love.
The core of genuine gratitude is deep and profound, but it is nurtured through remarkably simple actions and practical thoughts (as you continue to read Lead Without Followers, remember that the ideal can always be grounded in pragmatism).
Like any other honed skill, a deep sense of gratitude can be sharpened over time with regular practice. With time, gratitude becomes completely second-nature, effortless and a simple matter of being—rather than continually trying, striving or hoping to attain.
Gratitude, as I often say, is the cornerstone of real happiness.
On a purely rhetorical level, it sure sounds nice!
But if we step back to think about the many benefits of gratitude from a logical perspective, we begin to understand why a simple sense of thankfulness and gratefulness can help to spark a natural sense of happiness within us.
When you make it a point to place attention on the things, people and activities that you are thankful for and enjoy, you are choosing to shift your mindset away from one of negativity and deficit-mindedness—and, instead, toward one of positivity and abundance-mindedness.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a sandwich shop while working to complete a draft of this book. One table over from me, I noticed a young woman who was probably in her early 30s sit down with the restaurant manager and begin to fill out a long job application.
When the manager walked away for a moment, the young woman—who has a thick Eastern European accent to her voice, vibrant and piercing blue eyes, and short auburn hair pulled back into a ponytail—looked up and around the sandwich shop with a beaming smile across her face, as if she were signing the lease to a new home.
Pure gratitude garnishes her smile.
She looks around the corners of the restaurant, between its brightly painted interior and its advertisement-splashed walls, as if it were a cathedral of hope and opportunity. She is overflowing with thankfulness.
When the manager returns and asks her a question that I could not overhear, in broken English she responded, “… no, I cannot afford, I am broke.”
And in spite of her tired, heavy eyelids, as she continues to sign the forms and papers she never stops smiling.
The more you think about the good stuff that you love and appreciate, the happier and more peaceful you will feel, naturally.
Conversely, someone who only focuses on the negative aspects of life will be all the more inclined to feel unhappy, “lacking” and devoid of simple peace of mind.
We’re all guilty of falling into such a deficit-minded trap to some degree.
We tend to spend too much time focusing on what we don’t have, can’t do, what’s holding us back and all that we “need” to help us move forward. And between all the excuse-making and self-imposed misery that we can’t seem to escape, we completely forget all of the simple things that we already have in our lives to be thankful for.
We often attribute this pervasive deficit-minded mentality to our simple human nature: human beings are naturally competitive, right?
That’s what Charles Darwin discovered in his studies on evolution—what he called, “survival of the fittest,” isn’t it?
In spite of the apparent prevalence of such a “deficit-minded” culture in our world today, I don’t believe that human beings are naturally competitive creatures.
I know—this tends to fly in the face of what we have been taught about human nature, and especially when we consider the ultra-competitive and warlike world that we live in.
But, if we look past what’s merely before our eyes—something that leaders in the school of evolutionary thought are beginning to do with increased urgency today—we may become conscious of an innate human nature that’s been hiding in plain sight.
Rethinking Our Human Nature
“If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” — Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
A deficit-minded, lack-oriented mindset is continually manifested in a harsh competitiveness in our daily interactions when such isn’t even close to necessary; relentless profit-at-any-cost business practices that encourage employees to compromise their morals and personal values; and a zero-sum mentality that indisputably reinforces “what’s mine can’t be yours,” all of which spur a trickle-down effect that pollutes our daily lives.
But in spite of what is continually reinforced in our day-to-day interactions, and even in today’s overly-competitive society, we remain an intrinsically cooperative species.
Human beings are inherently social and communal creatures. On a biological level, we’re better off living amongst people for a variety of incredible health benefits.
Emerging evidence now suggests that human beings are necessarily healthier in all aspects of their lives when they are connected to and interact with groups of other human beings—the larger and more varied the groups, the better.
Studies have shown over the last century that your mental functionality, emotional well-being and physical health are all connected to your social activity and social connectedness to other human beings.
This evidence may suggest that our fundamental nature, the basis for our evolution, is actually hardwired to thrive among other people, rather than competing with or fighting against them.
In the 20th century, studies carried out by Dr. Fritz Talbot discovered incredible links between the mental and physical development of infants—including their ability to be happy later in life—to the physical contact they received from other human beings like parents, nurses and care-givers.
Orphaned and premature babies who were raised in hospital environments—where they could not receive the same direct physical contact with caregivers as they would with birth parents—subsequently experienced untimely deaths, increased illnesses, and significant developmental problems that affected the infants throughout their entire lives.
Conversely, Talbot discovered remarkable stories from orphanages and hospitals in post-war Russia and East Germany.
There, some nurses were said to have had almost “magical” healing effects on infants—because they made simple efforts to physically embrace premature and sick children, holding them in their arms for hours at a time.
This alone helped the children to recover and develop healthily.
Some of today’s leaders in the field of evolutionary thought are even beginning to openly question conventionally-understood ideas from Charles Darwin and his revolutionary book, Descent of Man.
They believe Darwin’s work on human nature has been vastly misunderstood—and even mythologized—to the point where we attribute his understanding of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” to mean that human beings are inherently violent, competitive and aggressive in nature.
This community goes so far as to argue that Darwin’s studies intended to promote the idea that humanity’s natural social instincts like love and care-taking are the strongest attributes in human nature.
They believe these positive social attributes may have shaped and determined the evolution of the human being over history, far more than even the idea of “survival of the fittest”!
Indeed, on a purely evolutionary level, cooperation and democratic teamwork would seem to best ensure the survival, perpetuation and ultimate success of the human species.
What’s not to say that human beings are egalitarian, loving and cooperative in nature—and are far less militaristic and combative than what news headlines today make us out to be?
And, after all—the earth was said to be flat before it was proven round.
Whether humanity’s deficit-mindedness is a part of our simple nature, a product of today’s world, or some combination of them both, simple gratitude—what can begin as simply as saying “thank you” for a handful of the objects scattered around the room—can provide you with the means to overcome and gradually undo that long-ingrained “zero-sum” mentality.
As a leader without followers who is, completely within yourself, a source of inspiration and positivity and goodness, your everyday focus must be dedicated to a “zillion-sum” mindset.
You must believe that your ability and willingness to give to others is purely limitless, and that—as taught to us by nature—there is plenty to go around for everybody.
But today, simply reflecting upon your gratitude is an easy, immediate switch that can almost magically extinguish negative thoughts or a bad mood.
Gratitude can erase lingering anger from an earlier argument, or even undo a long bout of depression.
How Forgiveness Unlocks Gratitude
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” — Lewis B. Smedes, 20th century author and theologian
Gratitude is empowering, but embracing a sense of thankfulness is easier said than done.
How can you begin to embrace gratefulness in your everyday life, in spite of the problems and troubles that might be hounding you? What is the key to unlocking hesitation, reluctance, or a seeming inability to positively focus upon things for which you should be grateful, every day?
Forgiveness. Simple forgiveness.
The practice of forgiveness is magnificently liberating.
The effects of forgiving others, as well as forgiving ourselves, open us up to an entire world of possibility and new, fresh life.
Forgiveness is a powerful method for freeing ourselves from grudges, long-standing feuds and even momentary arguments and conflicts that unfold in our everyday lives.
Even better, forgiveness is naturally humbling to the ego—our inflated sense of self that distracts us from the pure, uninhibited and beautiful truth of our being. If the effects of forgiveness are so profound, what stops us from forgiving?
Our ego compels us to say, “By forgiving someone who has wronged us, we are displaying nothing but vulnerability. We’re opening ourselves to powerlessness, and inviting the ones who have hurt us before to hurt us again.”
And further, we’re compelled to say, “If we forgive, then how do we prove that we have learned our lessons—that we refuse to be hurt again?”
However, when you think about it, maintaining a grudge—or, in other words, refusing to forgive—really takes a lot of effort.
Holding a grudge takes genuine fight to uphold.
“Nonforgiveness” requires more effort, time and energy than to simply allow forgiveness, which liberates you from the past and allows you to live more fully in the moment.
Nonforgiveness requires you to not only remember the past—one that you probably wish to forget and move on from—but further requires you to literally maintain those old and haunting memories in order to keep them alive.
It takes so much effort, in fact, that you have to physically and emotionally dedicate almost all of your energy and will-power to stubbornness.
Is that kind of a fight worth your time? Your energy? What or who else in your life could benefit from such a valuable amount of attention?
When we forgive, we propel new growth, chance and possibility. Forgiving ourselves and others helps us to move on from past transgressions and mistakes.
You needn’t forget what you’ve learned. Take what lessons you can from the past, be better for them, and then move on—with peace in your heart.
From there, you awaken a newfound sense of love within you.
Freed from the past and with renewed vigor to embrace the present moment, you open your eyes once more to everything that you have to be grateful for—instead of everything from your past that you wish to forget.
To hold a grudge is to fight forgiveness, and to fight forgiveness is like choosing to become a human dam. You’ll be fighting with all of your might, attention, energy and will-power in order to hold back, obstruct, and inhibit the simple nature of forgiveness to flow forth—to kill the past and let it remain there.
Simply let the dam break. And be freed.
The essence of genuine gratitude for “what is” —and indeed, for “what isn’t” —is a powerful personal practice that you can start and stop within your own thoughts at any time of the day.
This remarkable, uncomplicated practice is achievable by any person, regardless of their wealth, health or happiness. We always have something or someone to be thankful for, even if it requires some deep soul-searching to find them.
Better yet, practicing gratitude is an especially powerful way to shift your mindset from negative and deficit-minded thinking to positive and abundance-minded thinking. As a leader without followers, exerting leadership in your everyday life requires an easily-accessible internal source of inspiration, motivation and action.
That source must necessarily be shared by every human being, simply upon the basis that they, too, are also human.
Something “external” can certainly be a help to turn a negative mood into a positive one—a funny movie, calling a good friend or taking time to enjoy the weather.
The real goal of the Lead Without Followers philosophy, however, is to become that so-called “powerhouse for good,” a self-sustained force for quiet leadership in your everyday life that both sows and reaps radical positivity.
Gratitude helps to reveal the very means within ourselves for a natural and originating source of positivity, energy and inspiration that will sustain our actions and deeds.
Here’s a simple practice for starters.
Right now, look around and say “thank you” aloud or in your head for ten things that you have—whether they are material comforts, privileges, family members or friends, or personal gifts. Don’t forget things that are seemingly “small” and “trivial,”—not because of their physical sizes, but because you tend to take them for granted. Maybe it’s clean water, fresh air or a home with four walls and a roof.
Finally, take a moment and harness your imagination. Give thanks for ten things that you do not have: think of specific illnesses, hardships and suffering that you or your loved ones could have but, thankfully, are not currently enduring.
By any measure, you should now be feeling happier than before.
A little less stressed.
A little more grounded in reality.
A little less “lost” in your head.
Studies from Dr. Martin Seligman and the Positive Psychology movement are breaking ground with remarkable evidence about gratitude.
These studies show that the simple act of regularly reflecting upon gratitude can provide you with the means to create a significant, long-lasting happiness over prolonged periods of time—a practice that nurtures a stronger, resilient and enduring sense of leadership within.
Indeed, simply developing a keen awareness of thankfulness helps to strengthen your individual ability to sow goodness, happiness and well-being in others as a leader without followers.
Further, giving thanks for things both big and small—from gifts and privileges, to health and peace, to social and political rights—helps nurture a strong sense of balanced thankfulness and lasting positivity. Naturally, we begin to develop an intrinsic desire to help others.
The Gratitude Effect: A Natural Want to Help Others
How Thankfulness Naturally Creates a Leader’s Internal Drive
As a leader without followers, gratitude not only sparks simple appreciation, peace of mind and happiness within you—what can further be felt by others whom you encounter, every day—but nurtures a potent seed of leadership within your heart and soul: a natural “want” to help others.
When we give thanks, we shift our mindset from one of “lacking” to one of “giving.”
We turn a negative, downtrodden focus into a positive, uplifted and determined one.
We see sun even when clouds obstruct its light in the sky.
When we reap these effects from gratitude—whether in a momentary instance of gratefulness for the beauty of the day, or, from a big picture perspective like feeling appreciative for the social and political rights we are granted in our society—we consequently develop a natural drive within that compels us to help others feel grateful as we do, ourselves.
In tune with a sense of gratefulness, your inner leader is inspired to want to help all people feel more in tune to their own sense of gratitude—what we realize is such a simple but empowering method of feeling happier.
Nurturing thankfulness spurs a quiet force in your heart to further give and provide more to those who are lacking and struggling, so that they have more to be thankful for, like you.
When we take time every day to reflect upon the gifts that we’ve been given and what we’re simply able to do—physically, socially, emotionally, politically, mentally, and so on—we naturally feel compelled to take advantage of the opportunities that we suddenly realize are already before us.
We accept problems as challenges and adventures, rather than life-altering obstacles that will negatively and indelibly affect the rest of our lives.
It’s not magic; it’s a matter of perspective.
Gratitude sparks a natural awareness of your ability to lead and inspires a deep sense of ingenuity, innovativeness and intelligence—the creative spirit to give liberally, deeply, and even in magnificently unique ways that resonate with others around you.
By concentrating our thoughts upon thankfulness and gratitude, we develop a keen sense of imagination that helps us to give generously, inspire others and motivate people to live better and be happier—and, ultimately, to help them some day take up the torch of leadership, themselves.
Gratitude is the overwhelming and compelling force that will drive you, as a leader without followers, to want to give.
By regularly reflecting upon your gratitude, you’ll reap radical positivity and enduring happiness.
You’ll want to help others realize every gift and privilege that they, too, have been afforded in this life—and the fact that they are even alive!
Gratitude compels you to further provide for people the things they do not have, for which they will be thankful.
By creating the perfect conditions for seeds of inner leadership to sprout and grow, gratefulness tills the soil of your mental-emotional well-being.
This is an excerpt from Lead Without Followers: How to Save Our World by Radically Redefining the Meaning of Leadership (September 2011) by Dave Ursillo.