Have you ever crossed paths with that one remarkable person who makes you feel truly special? The kind of individual who not only listens to your words but holds onto every sentiment you share. Someone who remembers your most significant milestones, birthdays, pivotal life moments, and even goes the extra mile to check in on others’ well-being? This is the caliber of people who are the very heartbeat of an organization’s culture. They are the connectors, the nurturers, the colleagues with doors wide open. Regrettably, it’s all too easy to take for granted the invaluable contributions these remarkable people bring to the workplace.

We’re all familiar with the fast-paced nature of the modern workplace, where we can easily be swept away by the whirlwind of tasks and deadlines. We often find ourselves moving from one project to the next, working tirelessly to meet our goals, sometimes forgetting to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible people walking alongside us. But today, let’s pause and reflect on something profoundly important…expressing gratitude for the people we work with, especially considering the recent loss of a colleague.

In the most gut-wrenching moment recently, our Steople family was shaken by the loss of a beloved friend and colleague, Kristi Gifford. Kristi had been an integral part of our team, weaving her presence into the fabric of Steople since 2009. Her departure has reminded us of the fragility of life and the value of the bonds we share. It has underscored the significance of showing gratitude to those who stand beside us, navigating every triumph and tribulation together.

The Importance of Everyday Gratitude
How do you rate yourself showing gratitude to those who now sit around your table?  We must become intentional because true appreciation shouldn’t be a one-time event reserved only for moments of loss or significant milestones. It’s a daily practice that should seamlessly permeate our everyday work lives. Recognizing the efforts, dedication, and unique talents of those around us not only fosters a great work environment but also strengthens the bonds of all our relationships.

So, why don’t we show gratitude more often?  In a recent study, respondents unanimously agreed that saying “thank you” to colleagues “makes me feel happier and more fulfilled”—but on any given day, only a mere 10% acted on that impulse. A stunning 60% said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.” In short, Americans actively suppress gratitude on the job, even to the point of robbing themselves of happiness.

Why? It may be because, in theory, no one gives away anything at work; every exchange is fundamentally economic. You don’t deliver that memo to your boss at three o’clock sharp out of the goodness of your heart, but because that is what you’re being paid to do. Your paycheck becomes the equivalent of a “thank you.” Fail to do what you’re “asked,” and you may not see another one.

But, we cannot fall into that dangerous trap.  If you really want to be an employer of choice and cultivate a strong culture, expressing gratitude must become a habit.  Small gestures of appreciation, such as handwritten notes, picking up a lunch tab, highlighting a colleague in a meeting, or sincerely expressing appreciation for their contributions, are powerful ways to convey the depth of our gratitude. These actions celebrate the unique qualities that make our colleagues indispensable and contribute to a workplace culture that thrives on genuine appreciation.

The Power of Appreciation
In the aftermath of experiencing such a profound loss, we are reminded of the immense impact a single person can have on an organization. These moments underscore how deeply we cherish the presence and contributions each of us brings to the collective table. It’s important to acknowledge that every individual adds a unique set of skills, experiences, and diverse perspectives to our shared endeavor. Together, we operate like the pieces of a complex puzzle, harmoniously fitting together to create something far greater than the mere sum of its parts.

Reflecting on Kristi’s time with us, it’s undeniable that she brought an invaluable richness to our collective experience. In times of grief and loss, appreciation takes on an even deeper meaning… it becomes a way to pay tribute to her contributions, friendship, and legacy. While there are countless ways to honor Kristi’s memory, we have carefully chosen the six most meaningful ways to remember her, highlighting what made her an exceptional part of our work family.

  1. Kristi was genuinely passionate about her work with people wherever she was – she never met a stranger.
  2. Her attention to detail and excellence was beyond reproach…she constantly went above and beyond for the team.
  3. Kristi had so many friends and invested as much time as she could with them – she was that 3 am friend you could always count on.
  4. She had a gift for conversation and storytelling, sometimes tickling herself as she recounted a funny story.
  5. Kristi was a crier with a heart as big as the ocean. But she always owned it saying – sorry I can’t help it!
  6. Kristi did everything she could to tend to others, often putting our needs ahead of her own.  This was her life’s purpose.

As I reflect on the void left by Kristi’s absence, I remember the warmth of her smile, the wisdom of her counsel, and the deep camaraderie we shared. I remember when we laughed together, overcame challenges, and achieved great things as a team. We also had so many heartfelt thoughts and memories shared by our clients about Kristi – I honestly am not sure how much each of us realized the impact we might have on others in our daily lives.  It was remarkable and a good reminder.

Moving Forward Together
Kristi’s legacy highlighted the value of each person in our organization. It urges us to appreciate the living, express gratitude, and strengthen the bonds that hold us together. In doing so, we honor not only the memory of our friend but also nurture the whole reason we are together as colleagues and friends.  We truly are sitting around the table together, working to make a difference in the world.

The team and I recognize that appreciation must transcend mere moments—it should be ingrained in our daily lives. Reflecting on the days since Kristi fell ill, we’ve openly acknowledged that we don’t celebrate and appreciate as much as we should, so we are working to fix that. We believe it’s how we can celebrate the remarkable group of individuals who make our organization great.

Here is a rallying cry. Can we all commit to making this a priority as we move forward together, ensuring that we appreciate one another?  Making sure we look across the table appreciating our similarities and differences, fostering a culture of gratitude, and working towards making all workplaces a place of support, respect, and camaraderie.

In the depths of my heart, there exists a profound connection to tribal cultures that has guided my journey, both personally and professionally. This inexplicable bond finds its roots in the remarkable experiences of my early years, where I had the privilege of growing up alongside a diverse community, including a significant percentage of Native Americans, with the Kickapoo Tribe making up a quarter of my schoolmates. This immersion in tribal traditions, such a food, pow wows, spiritual practices, etc. left an indelible mark on the way that I conceptualize the world.

As a psychologist, my fascination with tribal culture runs even deeper, anchored in the rich tapestry of human behavior and our innate reliance on one another. It’s intriguing to consider that, for the better part of the past 100,000 years, our ancestors thrived in tribal societies, where cooperation within tight-knit groups was the cornerstone of survival. These societies, with their unique languages, rituals, and distinctive attire, symbolically marked the boundaries of in-group unity. It’s here, in these ancient lessons, that I believe we can find profound insights that resonate in the modern world of business.

In my own recent reflections, I’ve turned my attention to the dynamic of teams, recognizing that, like tribal communities, they too require periods of reorganization and reconnection. There are these little unwritten rules or boundaries that may be negatively impacting the team and need to be brought to the surface. If you have ever experienced issues on a team, you were a part of or leading, I want you to know that all of us are right in there with you! I have and will continue to face challenges that need to be addressed, much like you have. Most recently, I sought external guidance, and with my coach, I gleaned a significant ah-ha moment: for me to be an effective leader, I must stand unwaveringly on the battlefield, laser-focused on the vision. Distractions, whether past grievances, internal struggles, or external disruptions, can divert my attention from our Core Purpose. In essence, a cohesive team is only as strong as its weakest member, and the strength of the tribe hinges on each member’s commitment to supporting one another.  The old saying of you can’t see the forest for the trees is absolutely applicable here.  And those small revelations can help any leader course correct.

Tribal Laws That Must Be in Place for a Successful Team

This reflection brings me to the heart of the matter—tribal leadership. To navigate the complex landscape of modern business, we can draw inspiration from the timeless wisdom of tribal norms and unwritten rules that have evolved over centuries. Let’s explore some of these norms and their profound relevance in the context of contemporary business leadership and teams:

1. Lead by Example: In tribal cultures, leaders didn’t just command; they led through actions and deeds, setting a standard for others to follow. Today, effective leaders inspire and motivate by exemplifying the qualities they expect from their team.

2. Collective Responsibility: Tribal communities understood that every member bore responsibility for the tribe’s well-being. In business, fostering a sense of collective responsibility among team members encourages them to take ownership of shared goals…and for the team members to address individual issues that are holding the team back.

3. Conflict Resolution Within the Group: Tribes prioritized resolving disputes within the community to maintain unity. In today’s workplace, addressing conflicts directly and constructively is vital for a positive and productive environment.  A friend once told me that unresolved conflict is the biggest source of waste on teams.

4. Respect for Differences: Tribal societies celebrated the diversity of skills and roles within the group. Modern teams should embrace diversity, recognizing that varied perspectives enhance innovation and problem-solving.  Diversity increases productivity by 66% and should be part of the team fabric.

5. Interdependence: Tribes thrived on the contributions of every member. In business, emphasizing interdependence reinforces the importance of each team member’s role in achieving collective goals. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each member and accounting for that is crucial.

6. Trust and Loyalty: Trust was the bedrock of tribal leadership, earned through actions and fairness. Trust remains the cornerstone of effective leadership today.  Trust is so intertwined with loyalty and is the bedrock of great teams throughout history.

7. Protection and Provision: Tribes cared for vulnerable members, fostering empathy. In organizations, promoting a culture of support enhances employee well-being.  Ensuring that team members feel a sense of community and care is key and should be reciprocated across all levels of the organization.

8. Celebration of Achievements: Tribes celebrated together, reinforcing unity. Recognizing and celebrating accomplishments boosts employee morale and motivation.  This one is so important, but so neglected in most organizations we work with, unfortunately.

Incorporating these tribal principles into modern business teams can create a more inclusive, cooperative, and engaged workforce. These principles instill a sense of shared purpose, unity, and responsibility, forming the foundation upon which strong and successful organizations are built in our rapidly evolving world.  Learn from the past so you can build a stronger future!

As we venture forth in the dynamic landscape of business, let us remember the lessons of our tribal ancestors. Let us lead by example, nurture collective responsibility, resolve conflicts constructively, celebrate diversity, embrace interdependence, build trust, provide support, and never forget to celebrate our collective achievements. In doing so, we can forge bonds that transcend the ordinary, transforming our teams into tribes of resilience and excellence.


The holiday season is often billed as the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, however as many of you know it can also be full of stress and missteps.  For a leader, it can be especially tricky to navigate.  But, fear not!  Here at Steople one of our core values is “Have Fun” so we thought we would live that value in our final blog of 2020.  We are having the whole Steople team weigh in on what they feel are important Do’s and Don’ts to remember during this chaotic time of year…as seen through the eyes of an Elf on the Shelf!



DO: Lead by Example
While having good intentions, many employees get lost in the holiday hype and pressure and may start to slack off in their work. Leaders can help alleviate this simply by modeling the right behavior and using the right language.  Maintain the same high level of work ethic and your employees will follow suit. Often discussing the need to finish strong and wrapping up work for the year is incredibly important as well. Pitching in and helping employees with their own workloads is a great way to “get in the trenches” and understand their workloads. Some of the most inspiring CEOs I know have gone out on the production floor and helped their employees fulfill orders. Their teams loved it!



DON’T: Ignore Your Team’s Feelings
The holiday season is typically associated with social gatherings, gift-giving and cheer, but this year looks different for most due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  During the holidays and as 2020 comes to a close, leaders must guard against letting compassion fatigue creep in, which could lead them to become emotionally unplugged from the team.  Leaders must stay the course with resiliency, empathy, and commitment to supporting employees through this challenging time. Be intentional about taking care of your team or there could be a build-up of resentment that will negatively impact the team functioning.

DO: Set A Clear Cut Schedule Around Days Off
The holiday season — lots of days out of the office are happening, which means many days that productivity deteriorates. While you may not get as much work accomplished as other times of the year, you can still plan accordingly. Many leaders tend to discourage PTO usage during this time because of the limited amount of work time already available, as long as they give their employees enough notice in advance of the expectation, productivity doesn’t have to be impacted.



DON’T: Be Afraid To Make Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, even around the holidays.  If you’re afraid to make mistakes, your employees will be too. This means that they’ll take fewer risks, get less done, and contribute less than they would have otherwise. It’s much better to be a courageous leader who works hard giving it your all, and when the mistakes happen, own them, learn from them and move on.  Excellent leaders are willing to be vulnerable and say to their employees, “I made a mistake, and here is how we’re going to fix it.”



DO: Have Some Fun…At Work
Fun and the holidays seem to go hand in hand.  But what about at work?  It has been proven that when people have fun, they are more engaged, more productive, and less stressed. Therefore, it is important for leaders to create a culture where the two can successfully exist together.  Promote and support some fun at work.  Your energy and enthusiasm will have a great impact on your organization.  It will create an environment that people love to work in.



DON’T: Forget Bonuses and Thank You’s
Where appropriate and possible, it’s great to provide some additional consideration to employees at year-end especially when so many people are struggling to make ends meet. From my experience, it is more about the gesture and thought than it is about the amount. This token of acknowledgment goes a long way. If you aren’t able to give a bonus having another gesture that simply says thank you to your employees can provide a big boost going into the new year.


From our family to yours, we hope you have a great holiday season as we all look towards 2021 with hope and anticipation of new beginnings!