Guest Feature

Steve Foran

Meet Steve Foran

Steve Foran is a high-voltage electrical engineer and a top-of-the-class MBA.  But it's 30 years of customer service (serving and being served) that have transformed him into... The Gratitude Guy.  He helps organizations striving for service excellence and seeking genuine happiness for their people.  Sign up for his video blog at

Gratitude – The Path to Excellence | Steve Foran

After one of my gratitude workshops, a business owner remarked, "If I let my staff know that I am grateful for their performance, when they fall short of a goal, I am basically giving them permission to underperform. I just cannot allow that because we will never grow or achieve our stretch goals."

I did not have a good response at the time, but his comments sent me searching for a better answer. Somehow, maybe this article, will find its way to his reading list.

Here goes…

Genuine gratitude is not about accepting mediocrity. The casual observer often quickly and incorrectly assumes that if he allows himself to be grateful for substandard performance, either his own or that of others, that it will multiply into more substandard performance in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Looking more broadly, gratitude is the feeling that you experience when you attribute the positive aspects of your life to others.

However, the state of gratitude is not limited to when things are good; at the same time it is critical to understand that gratitude is not a Pollyanna masquerade for when things are bad simply to make them appear good.

More deeply, although gratitude is a foundation for happiness, it is not pixie dust that makes everything pleasant, at least not immediately. Genuine gratitude acknowledges the truth and sees reality – the good and the bad – it just allows you to do so from an appreciative perspective. This is difficult and at times, it is nearly impossible.

Being appreciative about less desirable situations is tough because it is easy to focus on the negative or it can be just as easy to gloss over the challenges and whitewash them

with unbridled optimism. Or, as in the case of the bottom-line focused workshop participant mentioned previously, it can be perceived as accepting a life of mediocrity.

My initial response to the comments at that workshop was weak.

In fact, it was somewhat embarrassing. As I drove away, I began inventing other responses I might have given him.

Then the analogy appeared. As a young engineer I was responsible for implementing a quality program in a large organization. Like all quality programs, we strived for continuous improvement. When mistakes were made, we jumped on them to learn – not just to fix the problem but more importantly to prevent the mistake from ever happening again. The investigations sought to inform not to blame.

After the investigation, we would learn something about what caused the error and we always found that some parts of our process were working just fine. We learned from our shortcomings and celebrated what we did well. This was our path to excellence and it was anything but mediocrity. In hindsight, we could have called them gratitude investigations.

Whether it is in your personal or professional life, gratitude actually transforms "accepting mediocrity" into "chasing excellence."

"Gratitude is not about accepting mediocrity."The systematic practice of gratitude parallels how one would investigate a non-conformance (the technical term for a mistake) in a quality program. Both ideas are rooted in accepting and appreciating reality – but not for the sake of being stuck in that reality. Instead, they both know that future success is built upon the success of the current reality and what can be learned about the current reality. If you can obtain this mindset about your current reality, even if it is horrible, you'll realize that your current reality is actually a gift.

The comment made to me by that skeptical business was a gift of enormous magnitude though it did not feel like a gift at the time. I am ever grateful he spoke up.

comments powered by Disqus