Gratitude in Leadership: A Thanksgiving Reminder

‘Tis the season for crunchy leaves, crisp air, and turkey with all the trimmings! We’re only a week away from Thanksgiving, so it’s a great time to reflect on actively practicing gratitude in leadership.  

In this season of giving thanks, let’s explore how embracing gratitude can make us more effective leaders by cultivating a sense of warmth and authenticity that resonates long after the holiday season. 

The Transformative Power of Gratitude in Leadership

In my time as a business owner, I’ve experienced my fair share of stressful days and overfull plates that made it far too easy to forget to show gratitude in favor of efficiency. I’ve also learned that it’s those times when we must be even more cognizant of how much our teams help us get through those times and deserve to know that we see them and the work that they do in steering the ship forward. 

That’s why an effective leader does much more to show appreciation than including “thanks!” at the end of an email or giving a passing shoutout at a meeting for wrapping up a project. Gratitude in leadership is a mindset that we must develop in which we value every contribution, no matter how small. 

I’ve come to understand that gratitude is the foundation of effective leadership because it celebrates the human element in business by saying, “I see the hard work and dedication you pour into your role, and I couldn’t do it without you.” In turn, we foster a positive and supportive work environment rather than one where people feel like what they’re doing doesn’t matter. 

Gratitude has the power to transform a group of individuals into a cohesive, motivated team. When we, as leaders, show genuine appreciation, it inspires our team members to invest their best selves in their work.

It’s also good for you! According to an article from Mindful on the Science of Gratitude:

Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude, defines gratitude as having two parts. The first is an affirmation of goodness: People can learn to wake up to the good around them and notice the gifts they have received. The second part of gratitude is recognizing that the source of this goodness rests outside of oneself—that we receive these gifts from other people… In other words, gratitude helps people realize that they wouldn’t be where they are without the help of others.”

Challenges to Becoming a More Grateful Leader

Just because we should express gratitude doesn’t mean that we always do, nor does it mean that these outward expressions come easily to everyone. There are leaders for whom giving genuine praise is as natural as breathing and others who struggle to dole out a few “nice jobs!” occasionally. 

Genuine vs. Obligatory Praise

If you fall in the latter category, it might be because you’re afraid of coming across as pandering or insincere. 

I’ll admit there’s a fine line between showing genuine appreciation and feeling obligated to say something nice, especially when you’re aware that crossing that line into insincerity can seriously damage your credibility as a trusted source of feedback. What if your team thinks that your sudden willingness to express your appreciation outwardly is just a management tactic rather than you striving to grow as a leader?

Understandably, it often seems easier to say nothing unless someone truly goes the extra mile, like staying long into the evening to help you wrap up a project or volunteering to pick up the slack while someone else is on vacation. 

The good news is that expressing praise and thanks doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. With enough practice, you can train yourself to show gratitude in leadership the “right” way by being specific, consistent, and personal.

  • Be specific by taking a few minutes every day to reflect on your team’s contributions and find something to be thankful for, whether it’s a well-executed presentation to a client or someone taking the time to ask a colleague if they needed support during a tough stretch of work. 
  • Be consistent by showing your appreciation often. There’s something to be grateful for daily if you’re willing to look for it. 
  • Be personal by expressing your appreciation in ways that are meaningful to the recipient. Some people love public recognition, but others find it embarrassing and stressful, preferring a quiet conversation or handwritten note. Pay attention to these preferences because they make your expressions of gratitude more meaningful.

Simple Yet Powerful Ways to Express Your Gratitude

Now that we’re all on the same page about why gratitude in leadership is something we should all practice, here are some ways you can weave it into your workplace:

  1. Begin team meetings by acknowledging team members’ hard work and achievements to set a more positive tone and show that you value their contributions.
  2. Dedicate weekly time to write personalized thank you notes for those who prefer less public showings of compliments and praise. 
  3. Use internal communication channels like email newsletters or Slack messages to acknowledge individual achievements. 
  4. Invite your employees to regular one-on-one check-ins to discuss their positive progress and show them that you see their dedication to professional growth.
  5. Organize surprise team lunches or breaks to celebrate milestones.
  6. Invest in your team’s growth. Offer opportunities for workshops and conferences to show them you value their career progression.
  7. Encourage team members to recognize and appreciate each other and create space for that, like monthly peer-nominated awards or a digital gratitude board where folks can post recognition notes for their colleagues. 

Of course, this list is not comprehensive, but it’s an excellent place to start if you want to create a happier, healthier workplace where people aren’t afraid to show each other they appreciate one another. 

Finally, I’d like to show my appreciation for my own clients who allow me to do what I love– helping leaders take the next steps in their careers through personal and professional development. Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

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