The No. 1 Leadership Success Principle


If you are a scientist, then critical thinking is probably the big key to success.  If you are a salesperson, listening skills probably rate very high. If you are a doctor, compassion seems to be the foundation for success.

So, what is the single most important factor for success as a leader?  I strongly believe it is an “attitude of gratitude”.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”  ~Cicero

Here’s my definition:

Gratitude is that state of mind, with associated feelings of wellbeing and contentment, that comes from focusing on the positive elements of events, situations, other people and our surroundings, no matter what the conditions.

Benefits of Gratitude:

If you recall a time in your own life when you felt filled with gratitude, you will also discover that it brought added benefits.  In a state of gratitude people tend to be more open and receptive to new ideas, have more profound insights, learn faster, smile more, have healthier body chemistry, solve problems quicker, are more motivated, have more determination and perseverance. Just to name a few of the many benefits of gratitude.

Leaders with an attitude of gratitude tend to be better at developing others by focusing more on strengths than faults. Leaders in gratitude approach business problems with more optimism and energy. Few people follow a pessimist, but will move mountains for the optimist.

Gratitude and External Events:

Whereas most people believe that positive events create feelings of well-being, and negative events lead to negative feelings, the reality is feelings are independent of external events.  Feelings are a result of our thoughts, not the external happenings in life!  Therefore, an attitude of gratitude can be developed from within, through our thinking, no matter what happens in life.

Thoughts influence feelings, and how we feel tends to drive how we behave!

A great example can be seen in this week’s Winter Olympics and watching how individuals respond to missing out on a medal.  While a few athletes show signs of bitterness for having trained so hard and yet finishing out of the standings, the vast majority of these athletes are exhilarated and grateful for the opportunity to participate.  Feelings of gratitude and wellbeing are displayed in smiles, tears of joy, hugging the winners, thanking their fans and sponsors. In the parlance of Steve Jobs: “the journey is the reward”.

Gratitude in Big Business:

After spending the past 30+ years in the business world, I find the leadership success principle of Gratitude sorely missing.  And it shows.  A larger percentage of top-level executives commit suicide than top-level athletes! I think an attitude of gratitude plays a major role. Business is full of challenges, things we cannot control, and a myriad of setbacks.  Most strategies fail to be successfully delivered.  Customers defect to the competition without warning. Technology disrupts. The global economy stalls. Cyber terrorism can really ruin your day!

But that’s the nature of business!  Without challenges and problems to overcome, wealan_mulally_ford_ceo wouldn’t really need leaders. Yet so many leaders view these events as failures, or at best, difficult problems to stress over.  The fact is, that’s business! It’s a contact sport and there are no guarantees you will win.

But with an attitude of gratitude, problems become exhilarating challenges.  Look at any of the interviews of Ford CEO Allan Mulally, who took on a near impossible challenge when Ford was hemorrhaging cash and customers defecting to foreign products.  He was upbeat.  He was energized.  He was grateful for his team, his employees, the opportunity. Being close to several members of the Ford senior executive team, I was able to hear first hand how Mulally’s attitude of gratitude, along with his focused business processes, led to the dramatic turnaround of Ford Motor Company.

A Way to Develop More Gratitude:

If you find yourself facing big business or life challenges and your gratitude reservoir is gratitude-journalrunning on empty, then there is one technique that is guaranteed to increase your ability to reside in gratitude, no matter what the circumstances.  Every day for a month, keep a journal and log all the things you are grateful for that day.  At first you might have to look extra hard, since most of us have some strong non-gratitude habits.  But by taking the time to write down at the beginning and end of each day the things you are grateful for, you will soon have a transformative experience and will reap the many benefits of an attitude of gratitude.

By the way, I am very grateful to all my faithful blog readers. It’s knowing you are out there, reading and thinking about my blogs, that keep me going.  Thanks.

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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