Every morning I start the day with meditation, journaling (sometime I miss this one), visualisation, affirmations and what I am grateful for and how I can show gratitude each day. Gratitude –though often underestimated– is a powerful leadership skill that can transform your entire mindset, leadership and organisation.
Gratitude is the BEST Leadership Attitude.
Think about it –have you ever worked for a manager or boss who just never seemed to appreciate your work, regardless of your efforts? I have been there myself. It is demoralising and makes you disengaged and detached from your company. On the contrary, feeling valued and appreciated is not only a basic human need, but it makes employees more engaged, productive, and committed to their job and work.
In general, most leaders do genuinely appreciate their people and express gratitude but, if that is the case, why do many employees still feel undervalued? Ineffective communication and poor gratitude practices might be undermining your efforts to appreciate your greatest asset especially now that so many of us are working from home.
For those who think gratitude is soft and fluffy, then please read on, it is a superpower aligned with kindness. And for those who don’t really embrace the whole kindness in leadership thing (yes I know you are out there), then please embrace gratitude at least!
What is gratitude, truly?
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation. it is key to empathetic and kind leadership too. It is the quality of being thankful for other people’s kindness, help, efforts, or favours – or your own! Gratitude is about acknowledging the contributions that other people make every day.
What makes gratitude so awesome?
Far from a fluffy, totally cheesy concept, gratitude has a real impact on physical and psychological health, our relationship with others, sleep quality, and self-esteem, among many other benefits. Yes it does! In a world of crazy times, change, tight deadlines, overwhelm and meetings, Gratitude may be the cheapest investment you can make with the highest dividends. We all love cheap and ROI don’t we?
Without getting into the details of its neurological effects even though I would love too, it has been established that living a grateful life leads to benefits for both mental and physical health, as well as interpersonal relationships. In other words, gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. Yippie! One of the neurochemicals associated with the parts of the brain affected by gratitude is dopamine, a pleasure hormone and we all love a bit of dop (dopamine I mean)!
In the book Leading with Gratitude, the authors emphasise the positive impact of gratitude on employee performance, “Workers want and need to know their work is appreciated. Showing gratitude to employees is the easiest, fastest, most inexpensive way to boost performance.”
Also in my latest book First Comes Courage I explore how kindness, appreciation and gratitude are the keys to building great leaders and teams – and organisations!
Need more convincing? Then read on….
Employee motivation and engagement is also clearly linked to showing appreciation to your people, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. “Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged.” In this other study, it is discussed that signs of gratitude such as gifts can relieve the recipient of a stressor. In other words, it makes your employees more resilient to stress – which we need more than ever today.
To summarise the benefits of gratitude:
- More motivated employees
- Higher employee engagement
- Better teamwork
- Happier workforce
- Higher sense of self-efficacy
- Increased performance
- Healthier workforce
- Increased resilience to stress
- Reduced anxiety and fear
What can you do as a leader to foster gratitude?
If gratitude is so great then why is it undervalued and underused at work? Negative (or developmental) praise and feedback can be hard (and necessary at times), but shouldn’t positive feedback be easy and part of our everyday lives? In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of over 7,600 managers, 37% admitted they don’t give positive reinforcement to employees. Why is this so? Taking the time to provide positive feedback and appreciate others seems optional, while it shouldn’t be.
The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland asked over 2,000 people in the United States about their own feelings about gratitude, and only one percent selected “I think that gratitude is unnecessary.” Positive feedback shapes our relationships even more so than does negative feedback.
Please don’t refrain from being grateful! And kindness….
Now this is an interesting fact. If you look up gratitude practices, you will probably find so many articles recommending “writing down things you feel grateful for” and then trying to feel deeply into the emotions associated with your list. While this gratitude practice can absolutely help, it is not as effective as many think. Now I follow Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and he also argues that “just saying thanks is not the most effective way” to reap the benefits of gratitude. It turns out, gratitude is the most powerful not when you give it, but when you receive it. The good news? You, as a manager, are in the perfect position to give and spread gratitude (and kindness) across your organisation.
Here are some awesome and actionable ideas for you to do so effectively.
- Be genuine, authentic and enthusiastic. It’s the genuine thanks that counts. Regardless of the size of the gift, receiving genuine gratitude is what matters most. Show enthusiasm and truly mean it. If you naturally express gratitude in an energetic way, keep it up. If you learned to be moderate or rational, consider turning it up a notch (e.g. turn “thank you” into “you made my day!”). In any case, you should aim for quality, not quantity (don’t force it).
- Start at the top (this is critical). To establish gratitude in your company culture, those with power need to set an example. Managers have to express gratitude first in a clear, consistent, and genuine way, both in public and private.
- Ask people how they like to be recognised (everyone is different). Asking employees “How do you wish to be thanked?” will help you adapt your “thank you” wishes to each individual. You will find out that, often, the expected reward system is more than just money.
- Don’t wait for annual performance reviews (this drives me nuts to be honest). If a team member goes above and beyond, express gratitude right away. Say thank you verbally, via text, or on Slack. Taking two minutes at the beginning of a meeting can help liven up the mood and make the meeting more productive and collaborative.
- Look for opportunities to celebrate success. Look out for small successes that will make employees feel special, from celebrating an employee’s tenure, extra effort, selfless help, hitting a milestone, or overcoming a major hurdle.
- Thank the people who rarely get thanked. Every organisation has the rock stars who always steal the limelight and those who do thankless work behind the scenes. Make even small contributions visible and show public gratitude in a consistent way to show that your culture is not just theoretical, but also experienced and developed.
- Make it public. Do a colleague shoutout in a company-wide channel, recognise a project partner during a meeting for going the extra mile, or post it on social media. These public displays of gratitude will have a much greater impact than a direct message or a text.
- Get specific. Another way to make your “thank you” more powerful is to be specific on why you feel grateful. When you express gratitude, just add the word “for” and tell them exactly what makes them special or what they did right. Remember that the thank-you target should always be the person and their actions, not the situation.
- Reinforce peer-to-peer recognition and acts of kindness. Kindness is contagious. Get creative to encourage team members to express gratitude –provide printouts so employees can easily give hand written thank-you notes to each other, have a piggy bank at the office and add one dollar every time someone expresses genuine gratitude (you can buy something nice for the office or organise a happy hour with the money collected), start a gratitude challenge, set up a gratitude platform… The options are endless.
- Offer education about the benefits of gratitude. Send out blog posts, articles, and research studies on the benefits of gratitude. Employees will be more inclined to practice gratitude once they understand its benefits.
- Offer occasional spontaneous gifts. Oftentimes, small gestures mean much more than shiny gifts. If a team member deserves it, offer them spontaneous gifts in the form of extra time off, a gift card to spend in a wellness centre, a LinkedIn recommendation, a lunch date… We all have different languages of appreciation, so don’t assume that everyone likes to receive a card, public praise, or have a coffee delivered. Find out what they truly enjoy and tailor the gift to their preferences.
- Leverage the power of storytelling (I love story telling and we use this method in our programs). As we mentioned before, research indicates that receiving gratitude is more powerful than giving gratitude, but did you know that you can create a sense of receiving gratitude for yourself? The tool you need is storytelling. You only need from 1 to 5 minutes 3 times a day. Find someone’s narrative that inspires you where someone exchanges gratitude. Imagining the emotional experience of somebody else receiving help and feeling grateful will increase a sense of resonance and affiliation and will help you evoke gratitude. (Huberman explains it better.)
- Vary your vocabulary. Saying “thank you” is a wonderful practice we should all do more often, and varying your wording will help you show appreciation to someone for several things while still sounding natural. Check out the section below for different ways to say “thank you”.
Phrases to express gratitude
- Thank you so much.
- Thank you very much.
- Thank you for your guidance / support / thoughtfulness / time.
- I appreciate your assistance / consideration / encouragement.
- I sincerely appreciate ….
- Many thanks for giving me this opportunity.
- Thanks very much for the assistance you provided. It is sincerely appreciated.
- I am grateful for your support.
- I appreciate you.
- I appreciate your taking the time.
- I value the insights and guidance you provide.
- I wanted to thank you for all your help.
- I truly appreciate the confidence you showed in me.
- I very much appreciate your help.
- It was very thoughtful of you.
- Thank you for everything you do.
- You are always so helpful.
- You are the best.
- You made my day! Seriously, thank you.
- You have been so awesome.
- I sincerely appreciate the support.
- Many thanks for your time.
Being grateful does not always equal expressing it correctly. Learn to communicate and adapt your messaging to different audiences, in different situations. If you are ready to enhance your communication skills for the workplace or help any of your colleagues, get in touch with the team at LeadershipHQ or contact me to speak at your next event or conference around Leadership, Kindness and Gratitude.
By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.
Sonia McDonald is changing the face of leadership across the globe. She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, and is known for her mantra ‘Just Lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her transformational coaching, leadership training programs and cultural transformation for organisations and encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped thousands of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.
Sonia is a founder and CEO of McDonald Inc., LeadershipHQ and Global Outstanding Leadership Awards and 2022 Courage Conference. For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of leadership and she is beyond committed to her mission around building a world of great leaders.
She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader. She has been recognised by Richtopia as One of the Top 250 Influential Women across the Globe and Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs.
Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is a leading coach, an award-winning published author of newly released First Comes Courage, Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and has become an in-demand keynote speaker on leadership, kindness and courage.
Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, kindness, empathy and courage as well as building outstanding leadership across the Globe.