Gratitude: A Leader’s Duty

It’s around this time of year that we’re encouraged to give thanks for the good things in our lives. And while it might seem like a bit of a stretch in the midst of a pandemic, I think we can all find at least one or two things to be thankful for. For those of us in the military, we might have a new dream assignment, new promotion, or a new posting to be thankful for. Odds are, we owe that good luck to hard work – and to the aspect of sheer, random, tornado-like luck that drives all Army personnel decision-making, of course.

However, while we might have put in that hard work, it would’ve been useless if there had been no one around to see it. You can be the best soldier the Army has ever seen – Audie Murphy combined with Captain America, on steroids – but if you’ve got a disengaged leader you’re working for, it might count for nothing. If you’re never given a chance to be in the spotlight to succeed or fail, then you might never have advanced at all. The idea that you can be “self-made” is patently ridiculous. Someone, somewhere, took on a chance on you; stepped back to let you shine; put your own successes ahead of their own; gave you your “moment.” So, who was the person who trusted you enough to give you the responsibility of soaring on your own merits, or crashing and burning?

We all have them in our lives. It might be the peer who sees an opportunity for you to excel and pushes you to take it. It might be someone above you who recognizes your talents and provides you a larger stage on which to showcase them. It might even be a subordinate who sings your praises during a command visit from your rater or senior rater. Or the friend who drops your name at a high-level meeting that opens a doorway for your career. If you’ve ever been successful in life, you have people in your life who have stepped aside to allow you the opportunity to grasp at that dream that you might have. Once you think about it, I’m sure that you can remember more than just a few.

So as you are giving thanks this holiday, I’d challenge you to do two things: first, actually thank those people for everything they’ve done for you. Hell, they might not even know the consequences of their kind actions. And in these days where hope and optimism often seem hard to find, people could really use that good news. So instead of offering some arbitrary thanks while carb-loading on Thursday, directly thank someone for all they’ve done for you. It will mean the world to them.

Secondly, I’d invite everyone reading this to ask ourselves if we’re being that person to those around us. Are we providing our subordinates opportunities to succeed in front of people who can improve their career, or are we taking that limelight for ourselves? Are we speaking up for skilled peers or colleagues when we know our voice matters, or are we simply opting to remain silent? Do we challenge those around us to step out of their comfort zones and excel? Do we invite people to share their passion with the world and – if it is in our power – give them a platform for it?

This is all a critical aspect of leadership – one that carries on even if you’re not in a leadership position, per se. Stuffy officer evaluation language might call it, “Extending influence across the chain of command.” What is it really? It is building excellence around you. It is helping people achieve life goals or dreams. It is an act of selfless service to others that might be one of the easiest things you’ve ever done. And it’s about giving back – or passing on – some of the gratitude you have for those in your life who have given you that boost along the way.

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