Leadership and Gratitude

Leadership and Gratitude


Thanksgiving is right around the corner and a perfect time for reflecting on the people we are grateful for in our personal and professional lives. Find ways to demonstrate gratitude all year long!

In my workshops and retreats discussing leadership, there are many important leadership characteristics that seem to come up over and over again:

  • Humility
  • Honest and Respectful Communication
  • Clear Vision
  • Trustworthy
  • I am certain you could add many more to this list…

The one characteristic I wish I heard more often is Showing Gratitude.  There is a lot of research that supports leadership and the importance of thanking people and showing gratitude.  When co-workers, peers, direct reports, and employees feel adequately recognized and appreciated, they take more ownership in their position, feel more fulfilled, and actually stay at their job.  We know and understand the painful costs in time and energy in replacing valuable staff members. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

You can see how Showing Gratitude fits into four out of the five basic human needs.  Knowing this, why don’t more leaders demonstrate their gratitude by providing positive feedback and recognition?  Here are some reasons:   

  • They feel that the employee is paid well, and providing them with their job is enough appreciation
  • If they provide too much positive feedback, employees may not be motivated to continue improving
  • Demonstrating gratitude is not in their natural wiring and they simply “forget” because it is not natural for them. 
  • Since they don’t receive positive feedback from their own boss, why should they give it to others? We unfortunately live in a culture that tends to withhold positive feedback.
  • Low confidence or self-esteem. If managers don’t believe in the value of their own worth and contributions to the organization, they find it difficult to provide positive feedback to others.

But gratitude is so simple!

The wonderful thing about gratitude is that it is easy and takes little or no money. What it does take, is heartfelt thought and action. Many leaders may think about the contributions their team members make, but fail to show or communicate to the employee their appreciation.

Gratitude should be an ingrained action of your leadership, regardless of your natural tendencies and style. Below are 6 ways leaders can show their employees that they are truly grateful for their contributions and value them for who they are as individuals.

 Simply Say “Thank you”

Most of us were taught this one by our mothers, but it is still often forgotten and skipped over because most of us are busy being busy. “Thank you” can be conveyed in a variety of ways, whether that is in person, by email, through a phone call or even a voice message. When it is genuine and heartfelt, it means something.

Write a note

A handwritten note, whether it’s on a sticky note or a card, demonstrates both the thought and action you took to express your gratitude for your staff members contribution.  A way to make this even more special – send the note/card to their home address.  That way they can share it with their family members. 

Be specific

A thank you is nice. A thank you for something specific and significant is even better. Instead of just telling a team member they do a great job working with customers, be specific. Tell your employee, “Since you joined our team,{fill in the blank}.”  “You’re awesome, and I’m grateful that you’re a part of this team!”  Sharing a specific action you witnessed or heard about lets the staff member know you are watching, listening and looking for things done right!

Involve Team Members with Decision Making

When team members are involved in the decision-making process of projects, they know that the ideas and opinions they contribute are valued and appreciated and this creates increased buy in with decisions.

 Provide learning and growth opportunities

A 2012 study conducted by the American Psychological Association with over 1,700 employees indicated that 70% of employees feel valued at work when they have opportunities for growth and development. Although it may be difficult to give someone a promotion, you can invest in their personal and professional growth through training and coaching, assignment to significant projects, cross-training, and involving them in discussions about innovation and continuous improvement.

Make a gratitude list

Every day, or at least once a week, make a list of the things you are honestly grateful for in other people. Do this for the people in both your personal and professional life. You will find that when you habitually express gratitude, you have less stress at home and your team members at work are happy to go out of their way to help you achieve your organizational goals.

When you are a sincere, grateful leader, it is much easier to see the good in others and provide ample praise and recognition where it is due. Sincerity is an important piece of gratitude; don’t just say something for the sake of saying something, make it real and meaningful.  Gratitude builds relationships. Think about how you have been blessed, as well as whom and what you are grateful for in your life. We all have a need to feel valued and appreciated. Take the time to express gratitude to the people in your life on a regular basis. 

From Forbes: Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round

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