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Lessons in Leadership from the Thanksgiving Table– A Perspective of Hope and Appreciation

The Thanksgiving holiday offers us a time to reflect on all the things we are thankful for while spending time with family and friends. It is also a day to reflect upon the past 22 months and the impact this pandemic has had on each of us, personally and professionally.

As a professional, what are you truly thankful for? When I think about this question, my mind wanders in many directions. Still, it ultimately comes back to one core element as a leader–quickly responding to the changes and challenges over the last year while capturing the creative potential of our teams. Specifically, I am thankful for the dedicated “heroes” who faced many changes and challenges and persevered by leading with hope and appreciation.

Reflecting upon this past year, I think of how my late father, who was a dynamic health care professional, talked about the lessons we can all learn from the “Thanksgiving Table.” Below are a few of his top leadership lessons and ones I keep close to my heart as I work with organizations across the nation:

  • Let people know what to expect. Holidays have many traditions, and we come to expect or look forward to what we know and what we will experience, such as a specific table setting, grandma’s sweet potato casserole, or Lisa always being the host for Thanksgiving for the entire family. This principle also applies to leadership, especially in today’s uncertain times. Your team should know as much as possible about your organization’s goals, what the vision is, what are the next steps to get close to the goals, and how they can be part of the change and growth! When your team isn’t spending time and energy feeling uncertain, they’re more likely to relax and bring their best selves and ideas for change to the table.
  • Try something new. Even though my family has specific traditions and menu items for Thanksgiving, it was always fun when we would try something new. As leaders, we need to appreciate the creativity and variety of skills of all of our team members (across departments and shifts). When we appreciate these differences, we can push our teams to think differently, challenge what they already know, and innovate. We cannot move our organization forward and move past all of the obstacles facing us without the collective “brainpower” of our team. Nothing creates more energy than fostering great ideas and trying them.
  • Get out there and do it. Whether you are comfortable hosting a holiday or cooking the meal, there are times we are pushed beyond our comfort zones. When we do this, we often are pleasantly surprised. As my dad would say, “sometimes you have to get out there and just do it!” This principle applies to how we give our team hope and show appreciation during challenging times like what we are experiencing now. Authentic leadership and showing your vulnerabilities are key parts of appreciation, gratitude and fostering hope for a brighter and different future. As a leader, it is an important part of your job to ensure others feel appreciated, acknowledged and valued. So as my dad says, “get out there and do it!” Giving and receiving gratitude and thanks is paramount for engaging your team and collaborating to determine your organization’s strategy for the future.
  • Thank up, thank together, thank out, and thank all around. Around the Thanksgiving table, we spend time thanking those around us, those who inspire us, those who are always there for us and those who surround us. This applies to leaders as well. Being thankful and appreciating our teams (internal and external) is key to our success. Remember, appreciation and gratitude need to be specific. Saying “thanks for being so awesome” doesn’t have the same impact as saying “thanks for taking Mrs. Jones to the dining room and helping her get ready for lunch. I saw her smile for the first time in a while, and taking those extra steps to help her is what makes you so special. Thank you.” Appreciation and gratitude require leaders to think about how specifically people like to be thanked, and tailoring your approach is important.

While leaders’ plates may feel full today with all the challenges in our industry, remember we can build and feed relationships in a variety of ways. By showing appreciation and a positive attitude, you can grow personally and professionally, as well as grow your team’s ability to move beyond COVID-19, rallying around collective goals and delivering the results to reach them. By doing this, you will also cultivate the best in other people, which only further serves to strengthen you as a leader. Thank you for being the best of the best and making the post-acute care industry better every day!

Pathway Health provides the insight, expertise and knowledge to keep your organization on the right path. Visit pathwayhealth.com or 877-777-5463.


Lisa A. Thomson, BA, LNHA, CIMT – Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer