Ep. 180: Jim Rafferty - The Business of Gratitude

Everyone agrees that gratitude is an important social courtesy for working and engaging with others. But the power of gratitude is far greater than most people realize. Host Mitch Roshong is joined by Jim Rafferty, marketing and communications consultant and the author of Leader by Accident, to discuss how cultivating a gratitude mindset helps transform leaders and organizations in extraordinary ways.

Welcome back to Count Me In,

IMA's podcast about all things affecting
the accounting and finance world.

This is your host Neha Lagoo Ratnakar
bringing you episode 180 of our series.

In today's episode, our
guest is Jim Rafferty.

Jim is a marketing and communications
consultant and the author of Leader by

Accident. My cohost Mitch Roshong,

and Jim Rafferty talk about
how cultivating a gratitude
mindset helps transform

leaders and organizations
in extraordinary ways.

To hear more let's head over
to the conversation now.

So Jim, in your opinion, what are
the most common characteristics of,

or needed attributes for
effective leadership in
today's business environment?

You know,

I think the first word that would jump
to mind would be empathy and that's

always a quality we've
needed in leaders to be sure.

I think we need it more than ever before
here over these last couple of years as

we've all really had to adapt on the
fly to a lot of changing circumstances.

And all of a sudden your concern
as a business leader is, you know,

not only what your employee, your
team member is doing in the office,

but now whether they're
also trying to, you know,

homeschool their kids and take care of
the dogs or an aging parent or whatever,

as they're trying to work
from home and get stuff done.

And I think that's called for an enormous
amount of flexibility and empathy

on the part of leaders in
the business environment.

And now oftentimes leaders are
looked to for direction, right?

They are providing others

with information that they will
ultimately need to adapt to,

but this flexibility and adaptability,

agility really is starting
to shift into the role

of the leader. So, again,
in your words, how,

or why do leaders need to be
even more adaptable today?

I think the, the sort of 10,000 foot
view of leadership and, you know,

this predates the pandemic, but maybe
the pandemic sort of accelerated it is,

you know, however many
years ago we wanna look,

the leader was the boss and he, or
she told you what to, and you did it.

And if you didn't, then there were
consequences. And I think, you know,

in a lot of cases, hopefully it's become
more of a two-way thing. So, you know,

the leader is not only talking,
but listening and, you know,

involving and engaging the team
members and getting that feedback that

ultimately is gonna make it a better
place. And it's become less of a, my way.

I hope it's become less of a,

my way or the highway sort of
situation because, you know,

the saying that's the same, you know,
then or now I think is, you know,

people join companies and they quit
bosses and they will quit bosses.

We've seen this in the great resignation
here, you know, dating back to,

I guess, you know, November we're really
the biggest numbers, but, you know,

when they feel like they're not being
listened to when they feel like they're

not being engaged and, you know,
in this whole remote work setting,

that's become even a bigger
challenge because we,

we lose is that face to face thing,

we lose the nonverbals that we would
get if somebody's sitting across a desk

from us and it just,

it takes a little extra work and to
reach a little deeper into the empathy

bucket, so to speak if you're a leader.

And, you know, once a
leader adapts, right. And,

you said it, empathy is something
that has always been important,

but it's more of that adapting
and their style, their behaviors,

everything you just mentioned.

I think one of the most important traits
that we discussed previously that I

would really like to hear your perspective
on a little bit deeper is the idea of

gratitude. So from the
leader's perspective, again,

it's more often, I believe historically,

it's the employees that are grateful
and express gratitude for the

opportunities that are given to them.
But from the leader's perspective,

what does gratitude really look like?

Yeah, my book, Leader by Accident,
I would say has three main themes.

And one is about, you know,

challenging yourself and getting out
of your comfort zone. Two is about the,

the language that we use
as leaders and, you know,

the impact that that can have
on organizational culture.

And three is this sense of
gratitude that you bring up.

And that was a recurring theme in
the messages I gave to the young men

of our boy scout troop in my five years
as a scout master, because, you know,

it's hard and we tend as a society
to default to the other way, right?

If you scroll through your social media
feed or you look at anything political,


it's this relentless stream of negativity
that just seems to keep getting worse

and worse and worse. So I think, you know,

even setting leadership aside just
as human beings is so important

because it just,

it just changes the way we go through
our days and it takes a little work.

And now, you know, it's a,

it's a quality that I think
is most valuable when,

you know, you mentioned everybody
kind of buys into it, right? So in,

in terms of gratitude,

how do you get people to stop with
that negativity, take the step back.

How do you cascade this thought
process or this feeling,

this emotion down throughout
the entire organization?

So it's much more of a positive
culture and workplace for everybody.

I think being a leader in that sense
is a lot like being a parent in

that we can,

and we do say things and teach lessons
and tell people things and hope that

the, you know, it will sink in
and all but much more than that.

They're going to observe what we do and
how we comport ourselves and the way

that we respond to things. And so if we
want to display a sense of gratitude,

you know, if we want our employees
to display a sense of gratitude,

we have to start by doing that ourselves.

And a lot of that I think comes in the
sense in the way that we respond to

things. I mean, how do we
respond when things go wrong?

Are we the unflappable leader,
or do we fly into immediately,

you know, end of the world
panic mode. And, you know,

obviously the former is the preferred
choice. If you're leading a team.

And now I, I kind of, you know,

flip flopped some of the conversation
that we were gonna have here.

But now that we understand how things
kind of get across the organization,

we have that buy-in once there is this
positive culture and ideally the leader

is setting the tone.

What are the benefits of
a workplace that embraces

gratitude? What are, what, what does
that look like from a team perspective?

I think that if we're cultivating
a positive environment
and gratitude certainly

is a big part of that, you know,

and sort of what we've already talked
about a little bit in terms of, you know,

we've adapted as leaders and we are
engaging our team members and we're being


and they know that a ton of bricks
isn't gonna come down on their head with

every little mistake they made. In other
words, that they are trusted, right.

Then what happens typically is
they start to do the things we

say we want our employees to do, right.

They start to think outside the box and
they start to, you know, quote unquote,

act like owners of the company and think
about the bigger picture beyond their

own little checklist of things they
do. And they stop running to you,

the manager or the leader to
cross every T and dot every I,

because you know, what they're doing is
covering their own behind. So, you know,

so they won't get in trouble
for doing something wrong.

I think just a whole world
of possibilities open up
when we empower our team and

gratitude is a part of
that. And, you know, again,

it partly is modeling that behavior.
And part of it, it's sort of, you know,

having that discussion with them. I
mean, we've all had the employee or the,

you know,

Facebook friend or the LinkedIn connection
who just likes to complain about

everything all the time.
I have one, you know,

every time he goes to a Starbucks,

he feels compelled to do a post about
how slow they were or how terrible the

employees, whether something
like that. And, you know,

if you feed yourself that string of
negativity, it's just self perpetuating.

And especially if you're a leader,

I think you have to be
especially careful about that.

That's a great point. And you
know, earlier in the conversation,

you mentioned the different
components of your book,

and we're really focusing in on,

on that last piece that you
mentioned here in gratitude,

but I do want to get your perspective,

and hear your thoughts on some of the
other pieces of the book before we

move forward.

Would you mind just sharing the title of
the book and a little bit about it with

our listeners? So they have an idea of
what it is that we're talking about here.

Sure. Thank you. The book is called
Leader by Accident: Lessons in Leadership,

Loss, and Life that was published in
October by Morgan James Publishing,

and essentially the two
parts of the story or the

Genesis of the book, I guess,

I very suddenly became scout master of
our son's boy scout troop some years ago

when the current scout master and his
entire family were murdered by their

oldest son, which was every
bit as horrible as it sounds.

And it was just something that we didn't
know if the troop would be able to

recover from. And in that
moment of uncertainty,

they turned to me who had been a boy
scout for all of about two weeks,

who really had no outdoor skills to
speak of any scouting experience.

Didn't have a position in the troop and
also part one of the book is sort of

that big step outta my comfort zone
into what is in the best of times,

a pretty demanding volunteer job. And
clearly this was not the best of times,

probably the bigger point though,

is that how those experiences over my
five years as scout master really fueled

the second step outta my comfort
zone into entrepreneurship.

I'm a marketing consultant now and
have been for not quite a decade,

pretty close, but you know,

something I never would have done had
I not challenged myself with that first

step into the scout master role and
some of the leadership challenges that,

that entailed and some of the honestly
physical challenges that entailed and

some of our, you know, high adventure
camping trips and things like that.

Thank you for sharing
that story. And, you know,

just the way you presented the
sequence of events, essentially,

and what that means. You know, it,

it just goes to show the value of
leadership and having those skills, those,

that innate ability to respond and adapt,

in all different circumstances as we
were talking about earlier. But I,

you know, I do wanna wrap
up this conversation and get
into a little bit more of

the language that we use as leaders
that you were just, you know,

getting to it in terms of
where it lays in the book,

the language we use as leaders,

how is that different than maybe the
language that we use in our, you know,

regular workplace. And if
we are aspiring leaders,

what is it about the language that we
use that we should work on in order to be

more respected and, and understood
as we advance through our careers?

The first thing I would say, and I say
this, whenever I talk about this in a,

you know, a keynote setting is
when we is this word leader,

we don't necessarily mean the boss, right?

And I don't care if you're running
an organization with 200 people,

or if you're the new salesperson
who started last week,

somebody somewhere in your life right
now is looking to you for leadership,

whether it's your child, your aging
parent, your spouse, or significant other,

you know, we're all,
maybe not all the time,

but we're all leaders
at moments in our lives.

And the part about the language
really involves a few stories.

And I'll tell the shortest version
of the, the shortest one here,

just to sort of give you an idea,

but one of my Scouts as
a junior in high school,

we were talking and I was asking him
if he started to think about college

majors, and we talked a little bit
about that, and he said, Mr. Rafferty,

what do you think I should do?
And I said, well, I don't know,

what do you like to
do? What interests you?

And we talked a little more and I
promptly forgot the conversation had ever

happened, cuz it was just, you know,

small talk a year and a half later
when reached the rank of Eagle scout,

he sent me a very nice handwritten
thank you note. And in that note,

he recalled that conversation
that I had forgotten.

And he said that was the first time in
his life that anyone had ever asked him

what he wanted to do with
his own life. He was 15,

maybe not quite 16
years old at that point.

And that was a real eyeopener for me.
And sort of a little lesson in that,

especially when we're in a situation
when someone is looking to us for

leadership, for guidance, you know,
what we think is a throwaway comment,

small talk, you know, a joke,

whatever can be interpreted
in very different ways.

And sometimes as in this
case, that was a good thing.

But other times it cannot be. And I think
especially in our current, you know,

with remote work and just
technology in general,

so much of our communication
happens by typing, right?

And it's very easy for the intent of
what we're trying to communicate to get

lost. Like somebody may understand
what we want done, but our tone,

our intent gets lost in the shuffle.

And it's very easy to wind up with team
members who have their noses at a joint.

And when that happens,
you're the last one to know.

Again, a great point
and I completely agree.

It makes things a little bit
more challenging for sure.

And yet there is just so much
opportunity to develop these

skills and be aware of
your surroundings and the

tone that you could be portraying,
whether it's your intent or not.

So the language that we use is certainly
something that I think all of our

listeners should consider. As you said,

you never know who's looking to
you for a piece of leadership.

So and now just as my last question
to wrap up our conversation,

thank you for everything
you've shared so far.

I'm just curious if you can give us
a little bit of insight into how you

anticipate the role of a leader,

whoever that may be evolving
even more in the future.

What are some of the other things,
characteristics, traits, knowledge,

or experiences that they should possess
as our business environment continues to

progress with this hybrid workplace
now and everything else that we have to

consider, who is the leader of
the future, in your opinion.

When I look back on those experiences
with the scout troop and by the way,

the scout troop not only survived,
but thrived, not thanks to me,

but thanks to a really
good team of leaders.

We had other people in place to handle
sort of the scout skills stuff and all

that. But

I think the thing that really made
it work, my piece of it anyway,

probably two things.

And one was that I was not afraid
to admit what, I didn't know.

The Scouts knew that I was inexperienced
at a lot of things and that a lot of

times when they were doing something for
the first time out on a camping trip,

so was I, and that's gave
me a bit more empathy,

empathy maybe than a typical leader
in, in that situation. So, you know,

number one for me would be,

don't be afraid to admit what you
don't know and to ask for help,

even from the people you're
leading. And number two,

I think one of the other
things we obviously had a
great deal of healing to do

as a troop.

And I made it a point to
really try to get to know

the young men of the troop as
well as I could and understood,

understand what they did when they
were not being boy Scouts. You know,

I knew what sports they played or what
instrument they played or how they spent

their, you know, what their hobbies
were and that kind of thing.

And we celebrated their achievements
outside of scouting as a group, you know,

and I think that's where we're going
in business leadership. And, you know,

in some cases we're already
there, but especially again,

in this remote work environment where
now we've gotta account for the fact that

we are trying to homeschool
our kids, you know,

that we're maybe ready to
come back to the office now,

but we're not sure if we can afford
the gas at the moment, you know,

that kind of thing, that,

that sort of understanding the whole
picture of who your team member is and

being responsive to it and
being empathetic to it,

I think really is the future
and in some ways the present of


This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast,

providing you with the latest
perspectives of thought leaders from the

accounting and finance profession.
If you like what you heard,

and you'd like to be counted in for
more relevant accounting and finance

education, visit IMA's
website at www.imanet.org.

Creators and Guests

Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
©Copyright 2019-2024 Institute of Management Accountants. All rights reserved.