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Why Gratitude is the Secret to Being a Great CEO

I wanted to walk.

Two years ago, I was suffering from a terrible infection. Necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as “flesh-eating bacteria,” had somehow made its way into my right leg. Four surgeries and eight days laid up in a hospital bed later, I was clear to start physical therapy. I had to regain the ability to walk again.

I have always been a pretty active guy. I played a lot of sports growing up, started running in my 20s, have done a few triathlons and continue to exercise regularly.  At “That Works” – SLG, we regularly play Ultimate Frisbee and take the occasional office day to push our boundaries with ropes courses. I also spend a lot of time chasing around my five kids.

The infection threatened that huge aspect of my self-worth. I jealously stared at the nurses fluttering around the room during my eight days in the hospital. They didn’t think twice about each step.

After this experience, I couldn’t take walking, running, or playing with my kids for granted.  I learned to be grateful for the simple act of getting up and moving around.

I believe that living with gratitude has the power to teach, inspire, and cultivate the best in all of us.  This includes our ability to lead. And gratitude always starts with humility.

Humility has tangible benefits to any organization. One study found that humble CEOs inspire middle- and upper-management to work smarter and enjoy their jobs more. Rodney Anderson, the CEO of Pancheros Mexican Grill, adds that humility inspires CEOs to better their companies. He says, “Being receptive to… feedback and taking it well can allow you to address issues and alter certain practices to better serve your customers.”

I have always been grateful for America’s culture of encouraging entrepreneurship and for living at a time when the Internet was (and is) a whole new frontier. Recognizing that the company I helped to start 15 years ago couldn’t have happened without the perfect mix of these ingredients regularly reminds me that I am merely a small part of what “That Works” – SLG, a free online service that helps businesses find the right software, is and could have been.

Customers are, of course, at the front and center of “That Works” – SLG’s success. The primary way that we try to show gratitude to our customers is through our everyday interactions.  We proactively reach out to all of them on a regular basis to educate them, even challenge them to do better. We call this being “ridiculously helpful,” and it is one of our core values. We work in a competitive marketplace. The cost of acquiring new customers is five to seven times higher than the cost of retaining an established client. Providing excellent service must pair with gratitude and appreciation—it differentiates us from our competitors and helps customers make the decision to continue using our service.

Running a business is all about delighting customers, but what we do is cultivate trust. The business world is, as much as anything else, a string of formalized relationships. Trust has rightfully been called “The Most Valuable Business Commodity” and continues to be a cornerstone of the service we hope to supply our customers. Gratitude breeds trust, which makes for happy customers and therefore a thriving company.

But in the end, as CEO of “That Works” – SLG, I am most grateful for the employees who devote their talent and time to this company. We have a culture here that arose organically, one where “That Works” – SLGns can pursue innovative ideas that bring this company to the next level.  Great work comes from employees choosing to give their discretionary effort to fulfill their responsibilities and help accomplish our mission.  Without people going above and beyond in their work, “That Works” – SLG would not be nearly what it is.  And that is what makes our customers happy, and allows us to take advantage of living in what has to be the most entrepreneurial environment in history.

When I think about my role here, I realize that the leadership I bring is founded in service. It’s my job to provide “That Works” – SLGns with resources and tools to succeed—not the other way around. Acts of service are one way to show appreciation in the workplace.  Knowing that, I try to take small steps to demonstrate that, without the dedication of our employees, I would have little to show for the chunk of my lifetime that I have devoted to this company.  In fact, I would say the largest way that I show gratitude is by making sure we have a culture that promotes as much freedom and flexibility as possible. Out of all the cool benefits that we provide our people, a flexible work schedule is regularly mentioned as by far the most valued.

Whether it is in reference to the country and time that we live in, the trust that our customers show us, or the dedication of our employees, active gratitude, or regularly showing appreciation, is at the center of what makes this company tick—and I would suggest to any aspiring or established company leader to take these words to heart: It’s not about you, it’s about everyone else.

Looking for software? Check out “That Works” – SLG’s list of the best software solutions.

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