Throughout my life, I have been abundantly blessed. I try to count my blessings every day, but around Thanksgiving, I put an extra focus on them. As always, I am thankful for my family. They are the most positive force in my life and always give me unconditional love and support. I am thankful for my teammates at Primerica. We have been through some major challenges together and I wouldn’t have successfully made it through any of it without them. They really are an extension of my family. And, this year, I am thankful for the team at SUCCESS and my platform to influence others. It seems like my family just keeps growing! I realize I have been very blessed. My parents and I had an amazing relationship. Loveanne, my wife, and I have always had a great relationship and our boys, Kyle and Tyler, have been the joy of our life.
However, I realize many people have the opposite. They may have a family where dysfunctional is a mild description. I am writing this post for those people. As the holidays approach and families come together, old hurts and ill feelings tend to come to the surface and walking into Thanksgiving celebrations can be like walking toward the guillotine. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Opportunities for leadership usually arise in times and places governed by chaos and trouble. What better time to emerge as a leader than at your chaotic family gathering? The issues that arise with your family aren’t that different from the ones at work. The setting is different, but managing different and often difficult personalities isn’t.
So, instead of dreading your family gathering, look at it as an opportunity to hone your leadership skills. To get you started, I’ve provided five leadership strategies you can easily adapt to make your Thanksgiving more enjoyable:
1. Accept people’s imperfections and be the first to see their good qualities.
My mother was the best at finding the good in people. I try hard to emulate her—even though I sometimes struggle with it. When it comes to your family, it may be a struggle for you, too, since you know those people and all their imperfections better than you know anyone else. But no one, no matter how vile they may seem, is all bad. Sometimes you just have to have the patience to look for the good.
This Thanksgiving, don’t focus on how much a certain family member makes you crazy. Instead, use that energy to find one of their good qualities. You may be surprised what you learn when you get past their negative traits.
2. Focus on what you can control.
You cannot control the probing questions, inappropriate words or disapproving looks that are part of family gatherings. It doesn’t matter what you say or do, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. What you can control is your own behavior and how you react to the situation.
Just like at work, you have to focus on controlling the things that will get results and let the rest take care of itself. Is it tempting to call your family out on their bad behavior? Absolutely. Is it going to change their actions? Absolutely not. When you stop letting them get under your skin, you may notice a change in their negative behaviors.
3. Embrace the adversity.
As I was writing my book and looking back over my life, I realized a big factor in my becoming co-CEO of Primerica was how I dealt with adversity. I’m just a small town kid from Salem, Georgia, so statistically the odds of becoming a top level executive weren’t as good for me as they were for some Ivy Leaguer. But, when times got tough, I ran toward adversity and worked my tail off to make something positive out of a negative situation.
You can’t avoid all the challenges that come with your family gatherings. Your enjoyment, just as your success, is going to have more to do with how you react to your situation than the situation itself. Instead of going in with a bad attitude, have an attitude of gratitude and step up to make the situation more positive.
4. Don’t burn bridges.
You may reach a point during your Thanksgiving gathering where you think you are done with these people forever and decide to release all the things that you’ve kept pent up inside. Man, I get it. I’ve been there in more than one business situation. And I bit my tongue. Why? Because making enemies is never worth it.
Your family may have been unsupportive and you may have taken the initiative to be successful completely on your own. But if you’re going to keep finding more success, you need people rooting for you because no one gets ahead in this world alone. Make a real effort to build relationships and make friends—they are the real treasures of life.
5. Remember you control your future, not them.
Never forget your roots—as painful, dysfunctional as your past may be, it’s still where you came from. Embrace your roots and remember your past shaped you, but it doesn’t control your future.
You can’t change your background or your family, but you can control the type of person you become. Love and respect them, but remember you are not them. Stay focused on your beliefs and your journey to be the best version of yourself. Also, take the time to tell the people who are a part of that journey you are thankful they are in your life.
Going into your Thanksgiving with a different mindset won’t undo all the past hurts, so don’t expect it to. Instead, be thankful for what you do have, especially the small blessings—the ability to laugh, to smile, to have a hot cup of coffee and a warm bed to lie down in every night. No matter how tenuous your relationship with your family may be, it didn’t break you. You still have plenty of blessings—and you’ve turned out to be a good leader, too.
From my family to yours, I hope you are able to apply these strategies and have the best Thanksgiving yet!