Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

Gratitude Is the Best Attitude

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” – Brené Brown

I get my greatest joy and energy from helping others. It is why I became an attorney, and it is what gives me the greatest happiness and satisfaction in my current job. But the important balance to that is one of my guiding leadership philosophies: Always demonstrate and communicate gratitude to those around you.

Sarah Evenson, JD, MBA

Four years ago, my law firm got a new chief operating officer (COO). One of the first things he shared with all of us is that he kept a gratitude journal. He listed off a multitude of reasons why he did it and how it helped him get through the difficult times and develop as a leader. I really took to heart what he was saying because he was not your traditional law firm COO — he is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, is a West Point graduate and even went back to serve as the school’s Chief of Operations before joining our law firm. I knew he definitely knew what he was talking about.

So I started to try and keep a gratitude journal for myself. Some weeks I was good; others not so good. Over time, I found what worked for me was to write down just three things I was grateful for every morning. In the beginning it was a struggle — I wrote down things like, “I am grateful for my new coffee creamer flavor, or that it isn’t raining.” But after a few months, I found it got easier to find things to be grateful for. And when I went back and reviewed my daily journal, I found that the majority of things I was grateful for was other people helping me. Then I realized, why am I keeping this gratitude to myself?

And that is when I really started to see the positive effects that came along with demonstrating your gratitude as a leader. I added to my daily gratitude list a “Say Thank You” line and made sure I told at least one person each week how they had helped me and the impact they made. As I practiced this new routine, I realized the more meaningful and detailed way I explained how that person helped me, the more they felt the genuineness and sincerity of my appreciation. And what I saw happen over time is the creation of a gratitude spider web as those I had expressed appreciation toward began to do the same with other people.

While keeping a gratitude journal may not be your thing, as leaders it is important to build connections with others. And there is no better gateway to connect than expressing your gratitude to others. It will not only help you to feel more positive about the past and more hopeful about the future, it will also inspire those around you!

So how do you start sharing your gratitude?

  1. Find two minutes every day to appreciate something or someone around you.
  2. Be specific about what you are grateful for.
  3. Explain why it is meaningful to you in a genuine way.
  4. Focus on what you appreciate about the person — not just the thing they did.
  5. Do not only talk about how it benefited you. Give a compliment to the other person like, “You always go out of your way to …” or, “You really shine when ….”
  6. Make it timely and contemporaneous with their actions.
  7. Choose how you want to communicate your gratitude (email, chat, in person, phone call, etc.).

Now I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to serve as your ALA President. It is an extraordinary honor, and I look forward to the exciting year that lies ahead!