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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jun 16, 2021

It’s day four of the growing gratitude challenge. 

As human beings we have a natural tendency to become caught up with the negatives and challenges in life. Researchers Gilovich and Davidai describe this as the headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry - what they characterise as a tendency to focus far more on barriers than on blessings. This can lead to a sense of unfairness - a perception that we have it harder than most other people. It also leads us to underestimate the benefits we have received that have contributed to positive outcomes in our lives. This tendency runs counter to a sense of gratitude. It’s very difficult to feel grateful at the same time as feeling like you’ve had it tougher than most people. But that’s exactly why gratitude can be so helpful - we can use gratitude to rebalance the asymmetry.

So today we are focusing on the tailwinds in our life - those things that have helped to bring us forward. We’re also reflecting on the headwinds that others face that perhaps don’t impact on us. 

It’s interesting how the working definition around privilege is changing. We used to think about privilege as having an advantage - and that’s something that most people find hard to accept. After all, I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today - it’s not fair to say I’m privileged is it? But another way of thinking about privilege is the absence of impediments. As a white male growing up in a middle class household, I wouldn’t necessarily think of my life as privileged. But as I become aware of the barriers and challenges others have faced by virtue of their ethnicity or gender or just the household they were born into, it’s easier for me to see the relative lack of headwinds I have experienced. My tailwinds have far exceed the headwinds I have experienced.

My mother provided me with great advice - if you’re ever feeling down, look for someone else to help.

I recall an interview with Michael J Fox, the actor who received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease as a young adult while at the peak of his acting career. During the interview he was asked if he ever felt sorry for himself. Michael replied that there was a long list of people to feel sorry for, and that his name wasn’t on it. 

Again, this isn’t about being overly positive or ignoring the hard times, rather it’s about putting those hard times into perspective and also seeking to help others through their challenges.

I think it’s also helpful to understand others’ experiences. A great challenge is to think of who, in your community, is least like you in terms of their circumstances and background. For me, it might be the Iranian asylum seeker, or the homeless person I see in the city. For a period of time I set myself a challenge to stop whenever I saw someone homeless and ask if I could buy them something - a coffee or a snack or maybe some lunch. Yes - it was inconvenient. In fact, on some occasions, I was really tempted to cross to the other side of the street. But I connected with some amazing people whose life was really different to mine, but were generous with their time and allowed me to appreciate how I might be able to help them. I encourage you to do the same, and then find some way to connect with that person and just find out more about their story. 

Today in your workbook, I’d like you to:

List the tailwinds in your life. What have been the circumstances that have helped you to progress and become the person you are today?

Acknowledge the headwinds. What are you finding more challenging and what is holding you back?

What might you do today to take control when it comes to headwinds? You might not be able to remove the headwind altogether, but how might you reduce the negative impact of headwinds?

Who is that person that is least like you in terms of their circumstances and background? How might you connect with them today to learn more about their story? Perhaps you can also offer to help them in some meaningful way.

Download the workbook at Leadership Today or via Leadership Today On-Demand