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Chris Kolenda: Daisy showed us what gratitude looks like

Daisy showed us what gratitude looks like

Do you have people and companions in your life that inspire gratitude? 

My wife, Nicole, and I are grateful for our dog, Daisy, who blessed our lives for six years before dying on February 1st last year from cancer. 

She showed us the meaning of gratitude in her love and affection (and the strange way she would shake her butt at us when she was ready for a walk!).

How do you show gratitude for the people (and companions) in your life and work who matter most? The 3 As can help.

Acknowledge: people want to be seen and heard. When someone’s talking to you, do you listen to understand, or are you multitasking (a.k.a. fake listening) or thinking about your response to an earlier point (listening to respond)? Acknowledge people by giving them your undivided attention.

Appreciate: Notice what people in your life do and how well they do it. Be specific when you compliment. Instead of saying, “You’re awesome” (empty praise), say, “I love how you gave that customer your full attention, understood their concerns, and used your resources to solve their problem and make them feel that they were the most important people in the world to you at that moment.”

Anticipate: Know their aspirations well enough that you can anticipate ways to help them grow personally and professionally and set them up for success as they face more significant challenges and levels of responsibility.

Daisy was found several years ago on the side of the road in Virginia and taken to a shelter and then a foster family. She found us on the internet. We think she was in an abusive household because she would often growl at men when we first got her.

The nearly six years we were together brought joy to our lives. Daisy loved chasing her ball, following Nicole obsessively, and treasuring her five daily walks. She was a dear friend and excellent companion, and we are grateful for our time together.

Rest in Peace, sweet girl. 

P.S. I help you combine your unique genius with simplicity and practical wisdom by turning your patterns and ideas into conscious processes you can teach, evaluate, and improve. Your genius creates an inspiring belief in the future. Simplicity creates a shared understanding, and practical wisdom generates coordinated action. 

Hit reply to this message or schedule a call to discuss ways process visuals can accelerate your growth and success.

Create best value experiences: offer employees an EVP

Is your company trapped in the doom loop of high turnover, poor execution, and poor customer experience? 

This loop leads to your customers seeking alternatives, which means declining sales, lower profits, and a higher risk of bankruptcy.

Organizations typically take their employees for granted, failing to invest in their well-being and future growth because they don’t see the payoff. A recent Harvard Business Review article shows the impact of this short-sighted approach. 

People who feel unfulfilled and taken for granted tend to be on the lookout for a better fit. That means they are paying less attention to your company’s well-being because they are preoccupied with their own. It’s no wonder 69 percent of Americans report being unengaged at work. 

People feeling undervalued jump ship. Losing people you’ve trained reduces productivity and heightens the likelihood of poor execution. 

Poor execution damages your customers’ experiences, leading to more problems you need to fix. Unsatisfied customers will vote with their feet for a competitor.

Now you’re paying penalties on two levels. 

First, losing existing customers undermines your business and makes you invest more heavily in attracting new customers (keeping existing customers tends to be cheaper than finding new ones).

Second, you get consumed in damage control. Instead of focusing on strategy, innovation, and growth (why you get paid X), you are cleaning up problems that a junior employee (who you pay Y) should have prevented in the first place.

X minus Y is your opportunity cost. If your salary is $250/hour and your employee’s is $50, your damage control costs you $200/hour. 

[NOTE: Micromanaging has the same math.]

An employee value proposition (EVP) helps you reverse the spiral because your employees see how you are investing in them as people. A good EVP includes tangible and intangible benefits, both short and long-term.

Many organizations focus on short-term tangible benefits, such as pay, and neglect the other three areas that emphasize purpose, belonging, and growth opportunities. Beyond a certain threshold, these factors are more prominent in stay-or-go decisions than pay.

Creating an EVP for your employees is an important forcing function that gets you to provide compelling, intangible benefits that will attract and retain the right people.

If this blog resonates with you and you are wondering about the next steps, Schedule a Call with Chris Kolenda. 

Wisconsin Red Cross Brave Hearts award gala.

What are you doing to recognize your Heroes?

I recently attended the Wisconsin Red Cross Brave Hearts award gala, grateful to receive the military award for last fall’s 1700-mile Fallen Hero Honor Ride.

The stories of the award recipients were extraordinary. I met a 9-year-old girl who saved a friend’s life at school using the Heimlich and a sixteen-year-old who engineered a blood drive after last year’s Waukesha tragedy. 

One recipient, noting that many clients weren’t getting regular health check-ups, added a doctor’s office to his barbershop to ease comfort and access. Inspiring was the 911 operator who kept a person calm after her car went into the water of a freezing lake until first responders rescued her, and so was the woman who stopped her car after seeing an elderly lady collapse on a busy street, keeping her safe until the ambulance arrived.

A Milwaukee police detective was off-duty getting a bite to eat when a gunman robbed someone and then tried to get into a car with children in the back. The detective distracted the robber from the kids and was shot twice in the abdomen. As he lay wounded in the street after protecting children, he had the presence of mind to call in the vehicle license plate as the attacker tried to escape in another car. 

An image of Chris Kolenda accepting the military award for last fall’s 1700-mile Fallen Hero Honor Ride at the the Wisconsin Red Cross Brave Hearts award gala.
Above: Chris Kolenda accepting the military award for last fall’s 1700-mile Fallen Hero Honor Ride at the Wisconsin Red Cross Brave Hearts award gala.

These are extraordinary examples, and I bet you have people in your company going above and beyond, doing something special for another person, and making people feel appreciated. These people are zappers – they give you energy and help you soar to new heights.

What steps do you take to recognize and appreciate them?

Our minds are so tuned to threats and risks (the amygdala) that we can pass over the everyday good people do. 

When that happens, you miss an opportunity to highlight examples of your values in action. People tune in to what you praise as well as what you criticize. Your employees want to receive appreciation, so they will adopt the positive behaviors you bring to their attention. 

Sadly, many leaders ignore the awesome and treat uncovering a problem as discovering buried treasure. 

You have to nip problems in the bud, or they grow. 

You will have fewer problems and more success when you treat discovering awesomeness as joyful eureka moments and dispassionately dispatch awful behavior.

Who’s been a hero in your company today? I would love to hear about them! Send me an email and tell me more about your hero!

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gratitude in leadership

Gratitude in Leadership: Practicing the 3 A’s of Gratitude

Gratitude in leadership is less of a feel-good idea, and more do-good practice of putting your intentions into action. The good news is that you don’t have to spend hours journaling, sitting in the lotus position, or manufacturing empty praise. Instead, focus on the 3 A’s of gratitude.

The 3 A’s of Gratitude in Leadership

  • Affirmation (reminding people that what they do matters) 
  • Admiration (praising people for doing things well)
  • and Appreciation (recognizing employees appropriately).

Put these gratitude practices into action, and you will see better productivity in your company and lower stress for you.

Why Gratitude Matters.

People have high morale at work when they know what they are doing is essential, they do it well, and they know you appreciate them.

Gratitude from leaders in your organization is a key to high morale.

Gratitude is the intersection of affirmation, admiration and appreciation.

When organizational leaders regularly express gratitude to employees, you are highlighting tangible examples of what right looks like. Employees know what behaviors to emulate because leadership affirmed, admired, and appreciated their contributions.

Gratitude is like honey — when you spread it around, some always sticks to you. People who practice gratitude have lower stress and better peace of mind. Leaders naturally become more successful when they see results like having 81% of your employees become more productive.

By contrast, fewer than half of employees work harder due to boss’s demands.

By the Numbers

Companies with high-gratitude leaders experience:

  • Better productivity (81% surveyed work harder when they feel appreciated).
  • Higher retention (53% report higher willingness to stay; 66% who feel unappreciated report wanting to leave).
  • Higher employee morale (59% of employees report that they’ve never felt appreciated).
  • Greater employee engagement (Only 32% of Americans report being engaged at work; 18% report being actively disengaged, spreading dissatisfaction, and the remaining 50% are disengaged, mailing it in, punching the clock, etc.

Putting Gratitude into Action

  • Affirm that your employees’ work is essential by showing them the links between their job and the company’s success.
  • Be specific about what they’re doing right (admire); avoid generalities that come across as empty praise.
  • Show your appreciation by identifying how their work is helping you and the company and investing in their professional growth. Talk is cheap; investing in your people shows genuine appreciation.
  • Pay attention: meeting with your direct reports for 15 minutes each week boosts their productivity (use this check-in guide).
  • Use RAVEN when someone disagrees with you or offers fresh ideas.
  • Journal if you want to; some people find it better to do event-driven journaling rather than make it a daily routine.

Differentiate Through Gratitude in Leadership

High-gratitude-leaders stand out. HBR found that the more power organizational members wield at work, the less gratitude they are likely to feel and express due to elevated feelings of entitlement and reduced concerns about their relationships with others.

When you lead with gratitude, you get better performance. When you act like a pirate who found buried treasure every time you discover a fault, you get slight performance improvement and live with higher anxiety.

Since faults tend to stand out more than excellence, you must be intentional about opportunities to express gratitude. The best leaders still see the problems and address them and find greater buy-in with gratitude.

An Example of Gratitude in Leadership

We can turn to leaders like Julie Frymyer, the Kansas City Chiefs assistant trainer who put gratitude into action. Her efforts helped Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes recover from injury and get back into action, sending the Chiefs to Super Bowl LVII.

Reaping the Rewards of Gratitude in Leadership

What could your organization accomplish if your leadership team practiced greater gratitude? Our SLA Community helps leaders tackle cultural shifts like this one to create tangible benefits like increasing profits and reducing employee turnover.

Schedule a call with Chris to learn more.

gratitude in leadership

I’m writing about gratitude today in memory of Daisy, our German Shepherd, who we had to put down due to cancer. We rescued her in 2017, and we brought tremendous joy to each other’s lives. We miss her.

P.S. My psychological safety article was so popular that Dr. Mark Goulston and I created the Net Psychological Safety Score so you can assess your organization.


STOP! – It’s Reflection Time: The day-to-day Grind has a way of Consuming our every Being

Find time to pause, practice gratitude, and reflection.


Why is reflection so important?

I had a bad dream last weekend that jarred me from my sleep and almost stole the rest of my night away. I attribute the dream to the Ukrainian tragedy and a book I’m reading called, “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri which is about a Syrian refugee and his wife in 2015.

My dream was related to my five-year-old. This five-year-old has the kindest heart. He cries when he accidentally hurts someone, he’s distraught when someone dies on TV, and he loves to cuddle and give others his “hug attacks.” When I pick him up from daycare, the kids line up to say goodbye and get a hug from him. In my dream, he was sitting on my lap and I was embracing him tightly, telling him that I loved him with earnest conviction because I knew, based on what was happening around me, that his innocence was going to be destroyed within the next few moments.

I can’t remember if it was terrorists coming to steal him from me or bombs exploding around us, but I knew I was going to lose my sweet and tenderhearted boy. As someone who typically forgets everything about my dreams, I can’t believe how vividly I still remember this gut-wrenching feeling.

I spent the next few hours in a reflective state, grateful that my family lives a “privileged” life and almost laughing at the mundane things that we decide to get upset and worried about. Of course, my thoughts veered towards business leadership.

It’s already May and 2022 is approaching its halfway point. Schools are finishing up for the year, the hustle and bustle of summer is quickly approaching, and we’re busier than ever. This dream came at an opportune time to pause, practice reflection, and be grateful for all that has happened so far this year. We often get so engrossed with our day-to-day habits, that we forget to look at the big picture and make sure we’re still following our dreams—even the bad ones.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • We are fortunate that our worries do not typically have life or death consequences. My worries might include obtaining my next client, preparing for my next meeting, practicing for my next speaking engagement, making sure that the website is up-to-date, or writing my next newsletter. This dream puts things into perspective. Even though most of our worries seem like we’re climbing Mt. Everest, they are rolling hills compared to what others have to endure.

**How can you put your worries and those of your Team into perspective?

  • Make the most out of the life that we are fortunate to live and find ways to help those around us in whatever capacity we can. If you can give to Ukraine, support your family, be philanthropists within your community, or join a cause—please find a way to help those less fortunate.

**How are you and your organization giving back?

  • Don’t forsake your priorities. My priorities are my family. When my 6-year-old asked me to attend his last field trip of the year, I shifted things around to make it happen. They’re only going to be young once and I don’t want them to feel like anything is more important than they are.

**How can you stick to your priorities and allow your Team to do the same?

  • We need to live our best lives and do the things that bring us joy and happiness. Life is fleeting; we never know when or how it’s going to end. Avoid living a life that is hollow, only focused on money, or passionless. Let’s live fully, richly, and with love.

**How can you find more joy in your life both at work and at home?

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Trust is Bonding

Jeff Marquez posted this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

While looking at the spaghetti of wires under the dash of my friend Aaron’s car, I remember asking myself, what the heck was I thinking? What was Aaron thinking allowing me to touch his classic car? Well, I am installing the fourth and most difficult wiring harness now. I know why he allowed me to touch his classic car–trust.

I think back to our previous work situations where we both would shake our heads at what we faced—often like spaghetti wires. We would discuss the mission or task, what right looked like, discuss with the Team to get their input, decide, and execute. Our expectations of each other matched our behaviors and that feeling cut across our Team.

Trust cuts across all levels of people from CEOs, senior executives, Mid-Leaders to early-career professionals, and everyone in between including personal relationships. Whether you are a CEO wanting to cultivate trust with your Mid-Leaders or a Mid-Leader wanting to strengthen your Team, here are a few ways to make trust bonding for your Team.

1. Inspire trust by being open, transparent, and clear about challenges. Most people want the Team and others to do well. But they can’t help if they don’t know so share challenges, and wins too! And remember, the best ideas do not always come from the top. 

2. Lead by example with candor, honesty, and vulnerability. Be the person you want your Team to be. As you share, they will share. As you innovate, let them surprise with their views and talents. 

3. Make your expectations clear and make trust part of your Team’s everyday conversations. My friend and trust expert, John O’Grady, describes having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost” rather than a “trust must be earned” mentality. Talk with employees about how their demonstrated behavior aligns with your expectations. And when you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory. Find the underlying reasons for the issue and collaboratively address them. Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken. Be proactive.

Trust creates a sense of psychological safety and can be an incredible inoculant when bad things happen to good people and good organizations. Think about your past year but more importantly, think about the year before you. Trust can make you feel in the most positive and profound ways. It fosters confidence, commitment, and teamwork. Who does not want that? Start trust bonding now.

Old School Legacy: D-Day veteran Ray Lambert dies at 100

How will people remember you?

Ray Lambert died on April 9th at age 100. A Staff Sergeant during World War Two, he led a medical section in the 1st Infantry Division and is one of a few who found themselves in the first wave of the three major amphibious landings in the European Theatre: North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

“The only heroic thing I ever did,” Ray told me, “was to rescue a soldier from a burning tank.” His boss told him not to go because the tank was about to blow up. Ray went anyway, pulled the soldier off the tank, and scrambled into a ditch as the tank exploded. “I disobeyed an order, so I did not get an award.” Others who’ve done the same were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The intense fighting on Sicily affected him deeply. He was in the thick of it for the month-long campaign, grinding through the island’s mountainous spine against the best German units. He was awarded the silver star (America’s third-highest award for valor) after going into a minefield to rescue a wounded soldier.

Ray landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Coming ashore against intense enemy fire, Ray spotted a pile of concrete. “It was the only cover on the beach.” Ray used the slight shelter for a casualty collection point. He put one of his medics there and proceeded to bring the wounded to the rock. He was wounded twice but patched himself up and kept rescuing his comrades. He eventually passed out from loss of blood and a broken back.

Ray suffered from post-traumatic stress. After the war, he found a job as an electrician and later began his own business. He couldn’t sleep. He hoped work would keep his mind off the war. He lost a lot of weight. 

After passing out during a job and nearly getting himself killed, Ray went to the VA to speak with a psychologist. “Talking about the experiences helped me deal with them. My memories were no longer abstract. I could deal with them.” Ray’s memory of his war experiences was near-photographic, except for Sicily.

Ray was highly successful in business, in his community, and taking care of his soldiers after the war. Seventy years later, he could recall their first names, where they were from, and their wives’ names. “Getting to know people on a personal level kept us going when times were tough. They knew that I cared about them and would never put them in danger carelessly.”

I first met Ray in 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-Day. We’ve been dear friends ever since. In 2018, our friend Christophe Coquel (a resident of Normandy) and I devised a plan to put a plaque on the concrete chunk where Ray saved so many lives. “I want the names of every man in the medical section on that plaque,” Ray told me. 

Ray and his family attended the October 2018 ceremony to dedicate Ray’s Rock. It’s the only plaque on the beach and the only marker dedicated to a platoon of medics. “I can still hear their voices in the waves,” Ray reflected, staring at the surf.

Ray’s legacy lives on in the people he touched because they pay his gifts forward to others. Who will remember you, and how will they remember you? 

1. Gratitude: you can fail alone, but you cannot succeed alone. Ray grew up in depression-era northern Alabama. He left home at age 13 to find a job and never finished high school. He said he became who he was because of the support of others. We’re all privileged, and we have agency. What are you doing with your opportunities?

2. Putting people in a position to succeed is the best form of caring. Ray knew his soldiers and employees and what mattered most to them. They gave their best because they knew Ray cared about them and put them in positions to succeed. Are you bringing out the best in others?

3. Set the right example and mind the say-do gap. Ray lived his standards of competence and character. He wasn’t perfect. He expected you to know your job and be trustworthy. He never asked people to endure hardship that he was unwilling to endure himself. What say-do gaps should you close?

4. Be your best self by finding the right support. Strong people like Ray are the ones who seek out support to take them to new heights. People who lack confidence wrap themselves in a crust and pretend they’re invulnerable. They never develop. Like a lobster, Alan Weiss says, you have to shed your protective shell if you want to grow. Who are your catalysts

What will be your legacy: how will people remember you?

Gratitude: Why I wear a Marines sweatshirt

Wisconsin winters are bitter cold, which motivates me to wear sweatshirts.

Each one brings unforgettable memories.

I get lots of comments whenever I wear my Marines sweatshirt, as I did on Tuesday. 

I served with some exceptional Marines in Afghanistan, especially those who were advisers to our partnered Afghan Army battalion.

Lieutenant Colonel Ty Edwards was the senior adviser during our last months in Afghanistan in 2008.

The Afghan Army tends to be very top-down. 

This Afghan battalion had a senior NCO who was a mullah from the Nuristani ethnic group. We’ll call him Mohammad.

We had been working hard with the Nuristanis in our area. 

Ty believed that Mohammad could boost our relationships.

The challenge was convincing the lieutenant colonel in charge of the battalion to let Mohammad play an influential role.

Ty asked questions that encouraged the commander to find ways that Mohammad could contribute his best.

The decision was a game-changer. 

The elders embraced Mohammad, asking him to lead prayers before and after each meeting. Their trust grew.

Together, they convinced the leader of a large insurgent group to stop fighting and support the government.

Those elders and former insurgents continue fighting the Taliban today.

Mohammad’s role was instrumental in creating one of the biggest wins in the history of the 20-year war.

Ty invited me to his hooch for cigars on my last evening in Afghanistan and presented me with the Marines sweatshirt.  

A few weeks later, Ty was badly wounded in a firefight as he rallied his Afghan partners. He always led by example.

I visited him several times at Walter Reed as he fought for his life. 

Ty lives in Florida.

The Marines sweatshirt fills me with gratitude for Ty. 

His leadership, courage, toughness, and friendship inspire me to make a difference, to pay it forward.

Thank you, Ty. 

Who are you grateful for?

Make the most of each day with these simple action steps

Dear Chris,

“What steps can I take to get the best from each day?” Karen G. wrote. 

I love getting these requests from you :0)

1. Organize your day by blocking off 1 hour + chunks of time you dedicate to your priorities. Let every other requirement flow around those chunks.

2. Set three objectives that you will accomplish each day (work on these during your priority times). Keep them achievable. Don’t boil the ocean. Write four paragraphs instead of four chapters.

3. Reward yourself when you meet your three objectives. Make some Oolong tea; grab a cappuccino, take an extra walk with your dog. This practice helps you build the habit of keeping commitments to yourself.

4. Schedule time for your personal, social, familial, and other priorities each week. Sundays are a great day to set your weekly agenda so that you maintain balance and dedicate time to what’s most important in life.

5. Set boundaries and stick to them. If you don’t have the time or something is outside your expertise, say so. The people who matter will respect your boundaries and will appreciate that you are not destroying yourself trying to please everyone.

1- 5 help you put first things first, so you are focused on what matters most.

6. Give thanks. A handwritten note is powerful. A quick video, email, or text is super, too. Recognize someone for awesomeness at the store, restaurant, hospital, or other places you visit during the day. 

Catch people doing something well and let them know you appreciate what they do.

7. Laugh

8. Offer to help. There’s so much opportunity to do the little things that make a big difference. Perform random acts of kindness.  

9. Exercise. Take a walk; ride your bike; go for a run; go to the (home) gym.

6 – 9 release endorphins that reduce stress, improve your mood, and boost your self-esteem

10. Read a national paper and a local paper. Know what’s happening in the country and world as well as in your community.

11. Give people your undivided attention when you are speaking with them. Be fully present—no multitasking or smartphones. 

12. Take time for personal growth. Read a book or article, watch a video, listen to a podcast. 

These last three enrich your life and boost your impact.

What is your top action step to get the most from each day?