Gratitude: the glue that holds personal relationships and family businesses together


As humans, we are not born grateful; it’s something that we have to work at. I know that I can be just as guilty as the next person of taking a windfall, a success, or a safety net I put in place for granted, not recognizing the successes as more than luck or happenstance when it occurs. Learning to be grateful and embrace gratitude is a journey we all must make; it goes beyond the polite “thank you,” and requires conscious attention in order to develop properly. 

You might be asking why it’s so important to learn gratitude, beyond simply voicing when you’re thankful or grateful for someone’s help or guidance. I will tell you that in my experience, I’ve learned that gratitude is one of the greatest assets a business can utilize. In the work I’ve done, the single-most troubling obstacle for family-owned businesses is that appreciation, recognition, and love are infrequently expressed or shared between family members. 

It can be easy to take people we care about for granted, particularly our family members, under the assumption that they will always be there for us. Adult children in a business family love their parents, but can fall short of expressing thankfulness for the work their parents or grandparents have done in order to help them succeed. Similarly, parents can often take their adult children for granted by failing to express their appreciation for their child’s or children’s commitment to the business. 

This disconnect between the two groups can fester into resentment and hurt if we are careful to let it go on for too long. 

Just as we must learn to stand, to walk, and then to run, we must also learn to live in gratitude and share it with those we care about, in both business and in our personal lives. It is not enough to say thank you, and fall back on our polite manners to carry us through. We must work to show our gratitude for one another, and for the hard work that each of us puts into making it through the day. Teamwork, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to put gratitude into action, as you actively demonstrate your appreciation for your colleagues by ensuring your work is completed, and that you are stepping in to assist when possible. Likewise, you know that when a team is firing on all cylinders, you can count on your teammates to guide you if you struggle along the way. This system of reciprocity, the organic give and take that successful teamwork inspires, is gratitude working in real time. It is the critical ingredient to all strong relationships for families, friends, and working relationships, and binds everyone together. 

Within business families, gratitude is the secret ingredient that can raise a company above competitors, beyond the routine and through any difficulty that comes up. This can be as easy as practicing gratitude by showing your appreciation for hard work in action or in language; it can mean sending a kind email or stopping by a colleague’s desk to let them know that you value their hard work and you see the effort that they are putting into their everyday tasks. Gratitude must be practiced, but never performed–it is strongest when it comes from the heart. No one is above wanting to be recognized or applauded for their hard work; even if your father, grandfather, uncle, mother, brother, or whoever seems as though they aren’t looking for recognition, I promise they will appreciate your genuine thanks or mention of how you see the work they are putting into the business. 

This Thanksgiving season, I challenge you to create a gratitude inventory. Take a moment each day, in your mind, to individually thank the people whom you love and who love you, such as your spouse, parents, each child, your friends, a close work associate, partner, or person who has altered your life. These brief moments will accumulate into a sense and feeling of gratitude that will help you to express it outwardly. Your gratitude will grow and will soon become as natural as breathing as it fills your life with thankfulness for what you have, rather than concern for what you think you are lacking.