sunrise

I am the vine, you are the branches. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, … I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” [Jn 15:5-11]

Let’s look at some specific ways to apply the grafting tape of gratitude to get ourselves back on His vine in the workaday world.

Let’s start with the easiest work-neighbors first, the people we serve—our customers, clients, patients, subscribers, guests, passengers or what ever we call them. It goes without saying that we owe these people a huge debt of gratitude because they are the ones who make it possible for our talents and skills to be manifest in the world, not to mention to earn an income.

This point is so obvious that it’s easy to forget in the day to day grind of work and so we have to consciously and actively make an effort to keep in top-of-mind. Some people do this in formal ways. In the old days at Hewlett-Packard, for example, each new employee heard the story of the Disney Studios sound engineer working on “Fantasia” who bought a prototype product from two young engineers working out of a garage in Palo Alto and so gave birth to the Hewlett-Packard Company. Down through the decades, everyone learned to be grateful for the customer who was the ancestor of it all.

But gratitude for customers has to be kept alive in small ways, too.

Back in 1980 when I was 24, I took my first full-time job at Leo Burnett, the advertising agency. It was in the days before direct deposit, so every two weeks we each got a hardcopy paycheck. I’ll never forget that on the top of that paycheck were printed the words, “Brought to you by our good clients,” to remind us who we were really working for.

From the day that Leo Burnett founded his agency in 1935, clients were the center of everything, and while he was alive, Burnett made sure that serving them was the reason every employee came to work each day. For example, his writers and art directors weren’t allowed to enter their work into industry award shows like employees at other agencies. Leo reasoned that because those awards are judged by agency peers, not by clients, an award show would only distract employees from the proper focus of their work—the success of the client’s business.

With careful nurturing, that ethos stayed alive long after he was dead. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, all the experienced employees at Leo Burnett made sure we newbies absorbed the culture of gratitude.

Now if you know anything about advertising agencies, you know that like many “creative” people, advertising people work in an emotionally intense environment. Their work is an artistic expression of themselves and so they identify with it in ways that other kinds of workers do not. For that reason, when an “artist” offers her work for acceptance or rejection by her clients, it is her self-worth she is offering up to acceptance or rejection, too.

Rejection hurts, especially after you’ve stayed up three nights in a row, going home only to shower and change your clothes to offer your client your best work only to hear him say, “I don’t like it.” That happened to me and the team of people I was working with and because the rejection was so fast and the disappointment so stinging, I remember salving myself with a strong dose of resentment and thinking. “Well then, if you don’t like our work, then I don’t like you either.” Childish, right? But remember, I was only 24.

 

After the meeting we all got in a cab and went back to the office. My boss came into my cubicle and asked, “How did the meeting go?” And, being back among my own kind, with someone who would surely be on my side, I started to whine, “That so and so client….”

But before I could get those five words out of my mouth, my boss firmly, but gently, said, “Stop. We don’t talk that way about our good clients within the four walls of Leo Burnett. These are the people who pay our rent, buy our food, send us on vacation, and pay for our kids to go to school. If you want to go down to the bar and blow off steam, do it. But not in here. Not where I can hear you and not where other people can hear you.”

Here was a woman who was watching me take out my axe and with words of ingratitude get ready to sever myself from the connection of service to my client which was the only reason I had a job at all. Unlike William Faulkner, my boss Barbara didn’t think clients were people who interfered with our artistry and made our lives irritating, but people who gave us opportunities to work, to earn, to learn and to grow. So, she simply told me to “Stop.” And I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

She was 26.

Through the Prophet Isaiah God said, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:9)

How can any of us ever be anything but forever grateful?

This post is an excerpt from a talk given by Lisa Fortini-Campbell author and adjunct Professor of Management at the Kellogg School of Management

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