THE BLOG
11/26/2013 08:45 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Why Size Matters: Big Gravy Boats, Small Gestures & Leading With Gratitude

Research shows that gratitude is good for business. Customers who receive follow up "thank you" notes or calls from stores and service providers are significantly more likely to purchase again from those grateful establishments. Data demonstrates that gratitude positively impacts our physical and mental health too. Most major religions -- Hinduism and Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism -- all hold gratitude as a virtue and critical practice for believers if they seek a relationship with the Divine. To sum up: Good business. Better health. And a Godly connection. Sounds like a no brainer. Why, then, aren't more of us incorporating Thanksgiving at work and in our lives?

For those of us with a strain of perfectionism coursing through our veins, it's easy to focus on the performance of Thanksgiving rather than the purpose of it. If you're in charge of making the big meal happen this Thursday, there's a rush that comes from landing that killer recipe for offbeat cranberry sauce. It feels like a victory to make the table pop with coveted napkin holders hunted down on Pinterest. And behold the master chef who ensures that the skillfully carved turkey is melt-in-your-mouth moist! After all, that's who we are. The American Dream is about aiming higher, working harder, and excelling more. Even on Thanksgiving.

At work throughout the year and particularly in this last quarter, we are pushing ourselves and others to outperform. To make the numbers. To close the sale. We are conditioned to expect high performance; and historically, our country has benefitted from high standards and a strong work ethic. But, if we're not mindful, that achievement orientation can overflow into our homes and kitchens this holiday, leading us to celebrate our festively set tables much like we do our P&Ls -- as extensions of what we've accumulated.

So, before the football games and family gatherings commence, consider something that Carl Jung wrote: "The goal is to make the ego as strong and as small as possible." That's right. As small as possible. In a culture full of huge SUVs and McMansions, we miss the power of smallness and simplicity. It isn't the size of our table or how richly adorned it is that matters. What counts is the depth of our gratitude for the gift of the table itself and those gathered around it. However abundant or barren our feasts, whether our businesses are in the black or deep in the red, let's take the pomp and performance out of Thanksgiving this week and make it our purpose to just say, "Thanks."

As leaders of companies, organizations and teams, strong conviction about who we are is required. We are often better at leading, though, when our egos aren't the size of Texas. We engender trust when acknowledging that we need other people to succeed. Demonstrating appreciation isn't weak. It's honest. Organizational excellence requires interdependence. We can't do it all alone.

This week, find simple ways to express gratitude to the people whose efforts and good intentions serve to keep the heart of your business beating. Send an email, write handwritten notes, give the staff $10 Starbucks gift cards. When you see those folks in the hallway who are usually hidden in out-of-the-way cubicles, take them aside for a second. Let them know that you know they matter. If all else fails, order in lunch for your team on Wednesday. Sit around the conference room with some pizza before the big exodus, and say a few heartfelt words.

Even renowned "Power Pose" Harvard researcher Amy J.C. Cuddy and her colleagues, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, claim that leading with warmth rather than strength and competence creates better results. Not exactly what they taught us in business school, but give compassion a try. Don't do it for the results. Do it because we all need a little recognition every now and again to remind us that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We're bombarded with "no" and "not good enough" at every turn. Showing gratitude to the people around us is like saying "yes" to them for a change. And those small expressions of "yes" might just change everything on the table in bigger ways than we can even imagine.