One of the ugliest words in the English language is “ungrateful.” Nobody wants to be ungrateful. 2010 was a particularly busy year for succession planning. Many business owners capitalized on the opportunity to transfer assets to their children at deep discounts due to de-valuations and low interest rates in this struggling economy.  Subsequently, I have had the opportunity to  coach people in expressing gratitude.

Looking back at last year has me in a contemplative mood about giving thanks.  In the next few posts, I want to address this issue in the context of family business.

The truth about ungratefulness is that it’s almost impossible to recognize the trait in yourself.  We can see other things pretty clearly, but ingratitude is a different category than anger, fear, or even, if you’ve got the guts to admit it, insecurity.  You can see those things in the mirror, but being ungrateful is often unnoticed.

As is common for me, I want to start this discussion at the top – with the business owner.  The reason I always start at the top is because as the owner of a family business, you are supposed to be the mature one.   All too often, the expectation of owners is everyone is supposed to express gratitude to you for all that you’ve done for them, right?  Of course that’s right. You’re the entrepreneur who was willing to take a risk, who was willing to leverage everything you had to make a go of it. And here you are 20 or 30 or more years later sitting on top of the empire you’ve built. And that’s just the way you think about it – “look at my baby…look at what I built…look at what I’ve done for our local community…look at what I’ve done for this industry…look how many people are dependent on me.”  This is the epitome of arrogance. “Look at what I did all by myself.”

You’re not just standing on top of an empire, you’re also standing on the shoulders of a bunch of people who you could not have done it without. And they deserve a little thanks. By the way, that does not translate through a paycheck. Any attitude of “that’s what they’re supposed to do, it’s their job and I pay them to do it” is an indication of the ugly word “ungrateful.”

Take some time today to think about to whom you owe an expression of gratitude, then go do it.