Reflections on Gratitude and Leadership

One of the best things about the long Thanksgiving weekend is that it actually gives you the time to slow down, think, reflect, and be grateful.

I’ve been blessed to have grown up with a mother who has made it a practice to give thanks. Beautiful in spirit, she is a walking heartbeat who has made it her life’s mission to care and nurture others. A youthful and vibrant seventy eight years of age, she still religiously counts her blessings each night as she falls asleep. I’m convinced that this “attitude of gratitude” is a key factor in keeping her young and healthy.

So, just as I’m thinking that I need to practice more gratitude, I get an email asking if I was willing to be interviewed for a project being undertaken by a group of employees with the Ontario Public Service as part of a year-long leadership development program (LEADS). The group meets over a period of time to participate in a number of exercises designed to help them develop their leadership skills.

In their first session they were asked to read the book “The Leadership Challenge” by Barry Posner and present the principles identified in the chapter by focusing on a leader they feel exemplifies the principles identified in that chapter. One group was tasked with presenting the chapter entitled “Challenging the Process” and identified my good friend Ian Hill as a leader they wanted to showcase.

First of all, I’m grateful that our provincial government is focused on developing leadership skills within their employees….who knew?  Secondly, it gave me a chance to thank Ian and think about what it is he does as a leader that makes such an impact.

While Ian has spent time in Niagara, his roots are in Reno, Nevada which is where I first met him when we were both presenting at a national leadership school a number of years ago. He now spends more time in Canada than the United States and remains one of the best, most authentic and inspirational speakers and change agents I’ve ever known. Last month he was the recipient of the first ever Harry Rosen Community Leadership Award. The questions and answers about Ian contain clues for anyone aspiring to leadership.

Q. “How did Ian help you get engaged in doing work that is meaningful to you? How did this work experience affect or change you? Did you have fun, and was that important - did it make a difference?

A. Ian has this amazing gift of connecting with everyone he meets. Even when he’s speaking to an audience of 500, it feels as if he’s speaking to you…actually not just speaking to you…but speaking to your heart.

He makes everyone feel as if they matter and has a very special gift to give. Because he always speaks with such positive energy and such passion, it is like a gentle and loving cuff on the side of your head that makes you think about what it is you can do to make the world a better place.

So not only does he inspire you to want to change the world, he makes changing the world seem less of an overwhelming challenge. He makes it instead about one small step. That step is the exercise in self-reflection that Ian always manages to trigger. The resulting self reflection helps you focus on what it is you should be doing. So ultimately, Ian is just somehow able to make you feel you can do better, and, doing better involves doing the work you were meant to do.

While every conversation with Ian has an element of fun, it also seems to sharpen my thinking and my understanding about the work I’m doing. He’s encouraged me to pursue my passion for community leadership and community development (he is always so sincerely flattering) to the extent that I’m now in a place where I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing what it is I’m meant to do. While getting to where I am was not without it’s risks, I am happier than I have ever been in my life.

Q. Can you tell us how he creates a safe and secure environment that gives people choices and helps them venture out and take chances?
A. I’m not sure Ian gives people choices as much as it is that he motivates them to find their innermost dreams and passion and encourages them to listen to their own instincts and inner voices (just the good voices not the evil ones!).

Q. In his work helping disadvantaged communities, Ian has garnered a great deal of support. How does Ian get people to say “yes” so that agreement is possible on a shared goal or project among a group of people?

A. Ian paints a picture or vision of “what can be”. He takes something quite complicated, and makes it simple enough that everyone can see the future and their place within it. He makes you want to be a part of that vision because it’s always a vision that impacts life in a positive way.

He is also able to garner support because he walks his own talk. By that I mean he always gives of himself - his time, his attention, and his own financial contributions.

Ian is fearless and believes anything is possible. His fearlessness and confidence in turn makes everyone he works with more courageous and willing to take risks.

So, to my good friend Ian, my heartfelt gratitude for all that you do to make our world a better place.

To learn more about Ian and the amazing leadership work he’s doing, see

Posted on 10-08-07

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