Ep. 180: Jim Rafferty - The Business of Gratitude

April 25, 2022 | 17 Minutes

Everyone agrees that gratitude is an important social courtesy for working and engaging with others. But the power of gratitude is far greater than most people realize. Host Mitch Roshong is joined by Jim Rafferty, marketing and communications consultant and the author of Leader by Accident, to discuss how cultivating a gratitude mindset helps transform leaders and organizations in extraordinary ways.

Contact Jim: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimrafferty1/

Full Episode Transcript:
Neha: (00:05)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Neha Lagoo Ratnakar bringing you episode 180 of our series. In today's episode, our guest is Jim Rafferty. Jim is a marketing and communications consultant and the author of Leader by Accident. My cohost Mitch Roshong, and Jim Rafferty talk about how cultivating a gratitude mindset helps transform leaders and organizations in extraordinary ways. To hear more let's head over to the conversation now.
 Mitch: (00:50)
 So Jim, in your opinion, what are the most common characteristics of, or needed attributes for effective leadership in today's business environment?
 Jim: (01:00)
 You know, I think the first word that would jump to mind would be empathy and that's always a quality we've needed in leaders to be sure. I think we need it more than ever before here over these last couple of years as we've all really had to adapt on the fly to a lot of changing circumstances. And all of a sudden your concern as a business leader is, you know, not only what your employee, your team member is doing in the office, but now whether they're also trying to, you know, homeschool their kids and take care of the dogs or an aging parent or whatever, as they're trying to work from home and get stuff done. And I think that's called for an enormous amount of flexibility and empathy on the part of leaders in the business environment.
 Mitch: (01:43)
 And now oftentimes leaders are looked to for direction, right? They are providing others with information that they will ultimately need to adapt to, but this flexibility and adaptability, agility really is starting to shift into the role of the leader. So, again, in your words, how, or why do leaders need to be even more adaptable today?
 Jim: (02:10)
 I think the, the sort of 10,000 foot view of leadership and, you know, this predates the pandemic, but maybe the pandemic sort of accelerated it is, you know, however many years ago we wanna look, the leader was the boss and he, or she told you what to, and you did it. And if you didn't, then there were consequences. And I think, you know, in a lot of cases, hopefully it's become more of a two-way thing. So, you know, the leader is not only talking, but listening and, you know, involving and engaging the team members and getting that feedback that ultimately is gonna make it a better place. And it's become less of a, my way. I hope it's become less of a, my way or the highway sort of situation because, you know, the saying that's the same, you know, then or now I think is, you know, people join companies and they quit bosses and they will quit bosses.
 Jim: (03:02)
 We've seen this in the great resignation here, you know, dating back to, I guess, you know, November we're really the biggest numbers, but, you know, when they feel like they're not being listened to when they feel like they're not being engaged and, you know, in this whole remote work setting, that's become even a bigger challenge because we, we lose is that face to face thing, we lose the nonverbals that we would get if somebody's sitting across a desk from us and it just, it takes a little extra work and to reach a little deeper into the empathy bucket, so to speak if you're a leader.
 Mitch: (03:33)
 And, you know, once a leader adapts, right. And, you said it, empathy is something that has always been important, but it's more of that adapting and their style, their behaviors, everything you just mentioned. I think one of the most important traits that we discussed previously that I would really like to hear your perspective on a little bit deeper is the idea of gratitude. So from the leader's perspective, again, it's more often, I believe historically, it's the employees that are grateful and express gratitude for the opportunities that are given to them. But from the leader's perspective, what does gratitude really look like?
 Jim: (04:15)
 Yeah, my book, Leader by Accident, I would say has three main themes. And one is about, you know, challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. Two is about the, the language that we use as leaders and, you know, the impact that that can have on organizational culture. And three is this sense of gratitude that you bring up. And that was a recurring theme in the messages I gave to the young men of our boy scout troop in my five years as a scout master, because, you know, it's hard and we tend as a society to default to the other way, right? If you scroll through your social media feed or you look at anything political, right, it's this relentless stream of negativity that just seems to keep getting worse and worse and worse. So I think, you know, even setting leadership aside just as human beings is so important because it just, it just changes the way we go through our days and it takes a little work.
 Mitch: (05:07)
 And now, you know, it's a, it's a quality that I think is most valuable when, you know, you mentioned everybody kind of buys into it, right? So in, in terms of gratitude, how do you get people to stop with that negativity, take the step back. How do you cascade this thought process or this feeling, this emotion down throughout the entire organization? So it's much more of a positive culture and workplace for everybody.
 Jim: (05:38)
 I think being a leader in that sense is a lot like being a parent in that we can, and we do say things and teach lessons and tell people things and hope that the, you know, it will sink in and all but much more than that. They're going to observe what we do and how we comport ourselves and the way that we respond to things. And so if we want to display a sense of gratitude, you know, if we want our employees to display a sense of gratitude, we have to start by doing that ourselves. And a lot of that I think comes in the sense in the way that we respond to things. I mean, how do we respond when things go wrong? Are we the unflappable leader, or do we fly into immediately, you know, end of the world panic mode. And, you know, obviously the former is the preferred choice. If you're leading a team.
 Mitch: (06:25)
 And now I, I kind of, you know, flip flopped some of the conversation that we were gonna have here. But now that we understand how things kind of get across the organization, we have that buy-in once there is this positive culture and ideally the leader is setting the tone. What are the benefits of a workplace that embraces gratitude? What are, what, what does that look like from a team perspective?
 Jim: (06:52)
 I think that if we're cultivating a positive environment and gratitude certainly is a big part of that, you know, and sort of what we've already talked about a little bit in terms of, you know, we've adapted as leaders and we are engaging our team members and we're being positive, and they know that a ton of bricks isn't gonna come down on their head with every little mistake they made. In other words, that they are trusted, right. Then what happens typically is they start to do the things we say we want our employees to do, right. They start to think outside the box and they start to, you know, quote unquote, act like owners of the company and think about the bigger picture beyond their own little checklist of things they do. And they stop running to you, the manager or the leader to cross every T and dot every I, because you know, what they're doing is covering their own behind.
 Jim: (07:41)
 So, you know, so they won't get in trouble for doing something wrong. I think just a whole world of possibilities open up when we empower our team and gratitude is a part of that. And, you know, again, it partly is modeling that behavior. And part of it, it's sort of, you know, having that discussion with them. I mean, we've all had the employee or the, you know, Facebook friend or the LinkedIn connection who just likes to complain about everything all the time. I have one, you know, every time he goes to a Starbucks, he feels compelled to do a post about how slow they were or how terrible the employees, whether something like that. And, you know, if you feed yourself that string of negativity, it's just self perpetuating. And especially if you're a leader, I think you have to be especially careful about that.
 Mitch: (08:21)
 That's a great point. And you know, earlier in the conversation, you mentioned the different components of your book, and we're really focusing in on, on that last piece that you mentioned here in gratitude, but I do want to get your perspective, and hear your thoughts on some of the other pieces of the book before we move forward. Would you mind just sharing the title of the book and a little bit about it with our listeners? So they have an idea of what it is that we're talking about here.
 Jim: (08:47)
 Sure. Thank you. The book is called Leader by Accident: Lessons in Leadership, Loss, and Life that was published in October by Morgan James Publishing, and essentially the two parts of the story or the Genesis of the book, I guess, I very suddenly became scout master of our son's boy scout troop some years ago when the current scout master and his entire family were murdered by their oldest son, which was every bit as horrible as it sounds. And it was just something that we didn't know if the troop would be able to recover from. And in that moment of uncertainty, they turned to me who had been a boy scout for all of about two weeks, who really had no outdoor skills to speak of any scouting experience. Didn't have a position in the troop and also part one of the book is sort of that big step outta my comfort zone into what is in the best of times, a pretty demanding volunteer job.
 Jim: (09:41)
 And clearly this was not the best of times, probably the bigger point though, is that how those experiences over my five years as scout master really fueled the second step outta my comfort zone into entrepreneurship. I'm a marketing consultant now and have been for not quite a decade, pretty close, but you know, something I never would have done had I not challenged myself with that first step into the scout master role and some of the leadership challenges that, that entailed and some of the honestly physical challenges that entailed and some of our, you know, high adventure camping trips and things like that.
 Mitch: (10:15)
 Thank you for sharing that story. And, you know, just the way you presented the sequence of events, essentially, and what that means. You know, it, it just goes to show the value of leadership and having those skills, those, that innate ability to respond and adapt, in all different circumstances as we were talking about earlier. But I, you know, I do wanna wrap up this conversation and get into a little bit more of the language that we use as leaders that you were just, you know, getting to it in terms of where it lays in the book, the language we use as leaders, how is that different than maybe the language that we use in our, you know, regular workplace. And if we are aspiring leaders, what is it about the language that we use that we should work on in order to be more respected and, and understood as we advance through our careers?
 Jim: (11:12)
 The first thing I would say, and I say this, whenever I talk about this in a, you know, a keynote setting is when we is this word leader, we don't necessarily mean the boss, right? And I don't care if you're running an organization with 200 people, or if you're the new salesperson who started last week, somebody somewhere in your life right now is looking to you for leadership, whether it's your child, your aging parent, your spouse, or significant other, you know, we're all, maybe not all the time, but we're all leaders at moments in our lives. And the part about the language really involves a few stories. And I'll tell the shortest version of the, the shortest one here, just to sort of give you an idea, but one of my Scouts as a junior in high school, we were talking and I was asking him if he started to think about college majors, and we talked a little bit about that, and he said, Mr. Rafferty, what do you think I should do? And I said, well, I don't know, what do you like to do? What interests you? And we talked a little more and I promptly forgot the conversation had ever happened, cuz it was just, you know, small talk a year and a half later when reached the rank of Eagle scout, he sent me a very nice handwritten thank you note. And in that note, he recalled that conversation that I had forgotten. And he said that was the first time in his life that anyone had ever asked him what he wanted to do with his own life. He was 15, maybe not quite 16 years old at that point. And that was a real eyeopener for me. And sort of a little lesson in that, especially when we're in a situation when someone is looking to us for leadership, for guidance, you know, what we think is a throwaway comment, small talk, you know, a joke, whatever can be interpreted in very different ways.
 Jim: (12:47)
 And sometimes as in this case, that was a good thing. But other times it cannot be. And I think especially in our current, you know, with remote work and just technology in general, so much of our communication happens by typing, right? And it's very easy for the intent of what we're trying to communicate to get lost. Like somebody may understand what we want done, but our tone, our intent gets lost in the shuffle. And it's very easy to wind up with team members who have their noses at a joint. And when that happens, you're the last one to know.
 Mitch: (13:19)
 Again, a great point and I completely agree. It makes things a little bit more challenging for sure. And yet there is just so much opportunity to develop these skills and be aware of your surroundings and the tone that you could be portraying, whether it's your intent or not. So the language that we use is certainly something that I think all of our listeners should consider. As you said, you never know who's looking to you for a piece of leadership. So and now just as my last question to wrap up our conversation, thank you for everything you've shared so far. I'm just curious if you can give us a little bit of insight into how you anticipate the role of a leader, whoever that may be evolving even more in the future. What are some of the other things, characteristics, traits, knowledge, or experiences that they should possess as our business environment continues to progress with this hybrid workplace now and everything else that we have to consider, who is the leader of the future, in your opinion,
 Jim: (14:25)
 When I look back on those experiences with the scout troop and by the way, the scout troop not only survived, but thrived, not thanks to me, but thanks to a really good team of leaders. We had other people in place to handle sort of the scout skills stuff and all that. But I think the thing that really made it work, my piece of it anyway, probably two things. And one was that I was not afraid to admit what, I didn't know. The Scouts knew that I was inexperienced at a lot of things and that a lot of times when they were doing something for the first time out on a camping trip, so was I, and that's gave me a bit more empathy, empathy maybe than a typical leader in, in that situation. So, you know, number one for me would be, don't be afraid to admit what you don't know and to ask for help, even from the people you're leading.
 Jim: (15:17)
 And number two, I think one of the other things we obviously had a great deal of healing to do as a troop. And I made it a point to really try to get to know the young men of the troop as well as I could and understood, understand what they did when they were not being boy Scouts. You know, I knew what sports they played or what instrument they played or how they spent their, you know, what their hobbies were and that kind of thing. And we celebrated their achievements outside of scouting as a group, you know, and I think that's where we're going in business leadership. And, you know, in some cases we're already there, but especially again, in this remote work environment where now we've gotta account for the fact that we are trying to homeschool our kids, you know, that we're maybe ready to come back to the office now, but we're not sure if we can afford the gas at the moment, you know, that kind of thing, that, that sort of understanding the whole picture of who your team member is and being responsive to it and being empathetic to it, I think really is the future and in some ways the present of leadership,
 Speaker 4: (16:20)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.