Give Thanks: It Makes You a Better Leader
As we near the end of the year, many of us are preparing to celebrate the winter holidays and remembering what we are most grateful for during this time of reflection. Cynthia Indriso '86PH of the Columbia Career Coaches Network shares the power of giving thanks from the perspective of a leader.
The annual traditions of Thanksgiving Day and the Christmas holidays are a great reminder of the power of gratitude. Research shows that grateful people are happier, less stressed, and sleep better.
Gratitude has also been linked to oxytocin — the hormone associated with social bonding. It breeds engagement, more positive interactions, and builds resistance. It’s a powerful means of acknowledging accomplishments and encouraging a focus on successes. It increases a person’s sense of social worth – feeling valued by others. It also keeps our ego in check, because appreciating others’ contributions reminds us that without them, we wouldn’t be as successful.
So feeling and expressing gratitude is especially helpful if you want to be a better leader. It gives you self-care benefits as well as having a positive impact on the people around you. A recent Glassdoor survey found that 80% of employees say they would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss and other research shows that it helps to attract and retain talent.
HOW TO LEAD WITH GRATITUDE
Expressing gratitude has a big positive impact in the workplace, yet research shows it’s in much shorter supply at work than among family and friends.
So here are our best tips for how you can up-skill yourself, your team, and your workplace to create a culture of gratitude with all its powerful and beneficial impact:
1. Make it about the other(s), and not about you. Recent research suggests that people often make a big mistake when they say thank you: They focus on how happy they are, how they have benefited — rather than focusing on the benefactor:
It shows how responsible you are…
You go out of your way…
I feel like you’re really good at…
It let me relax…
It gave me bragging rights at work…
It makes me happy…
2. Be grateful for people, not just performance. Focus on social worth and think about how people have made a difference. Give thanks for people’s willingness, enthusiasm, commitment, or efforts — their character strengths and leadership values, not just the achievement of their KPIs and their impact on the bottom line.
3. Be specific. Saying “thanks for being fantastic” doesn’t have the same benefit and impact as saying “thank you for always focusing on finding a solution; you inspire the whole team to be positive and creative, especially when we’re up against a challenge.”
4. Do it daily: Giving thanks at the company meeting once a quarter will come off as half-hearted at best. Instead, make it a daily habit. Set a goal to thank someone for something specific each day.
5. Recognize the big and small: It’s easy to take note of the latest closed deals, but much harder to pick out the employee who took on an extra project for a sick co-worker or the office manager who spent her weekend meeting a crucial deadline. Gratitude for the smaller actions often needs to be encouraged at the team level, so ask your managers to be aware and recognize the behind-the-scenes actions.
6. Be grateful even when things go wrong. Projects fail, people make mistakes, clients quit, deadlines pass without completion. But be grateful for the effort, and encourage everyone to focus on the learning if the outcomes fall short. No one responds well to depreciation. Gracious leaders and managers recognize effort even in the face of failure.
7. Write it down. Saying you are grateful at the start of a meeting is great, but sending written expressions of your gratitude for a specific task or effort is something for someone to see and keep in a permanent file.
8. Do it in-person. In this digital world where everyone’s glued to their technology, it’s more important than ever to find ways to express gratitude in ways that are personal. Take the time to meet face-to-face with people, and look them in the eyes. Do it at your next board meeting, or over coffee, or on a walk to somewhere together. An in-person conversation may have as much or even more impact than a dozen appreciation letters.
9. Go public. At meetings, make a point of being thankful. Be inclusive and spread the recognition around. Be mindful to not leave anyone out.
10. Provide avenues for gratitude: A workplace culture of gratitude isn’t built in a day. But you can help it gain traction by making it easy for employees to express their thanks. They can be simple gestures, like thank you cards at the front desk for anyone to use and a policy of sending cards for birthdays, weddings, and other life events.
11. Be authentic. Last, but not least, heartfelt truth is the core of gratitude. It’s better to be silent than to fake it.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE TO CREATE A NEW NORMAL
A culture of gratitude starts at the top. As a leader, you have the power to create a culture of public praise. When you take the time to give thanks, you encourage others to do the same. People might feel uncomfortable calling out the sometimes seemingly insignificant things people do. But there’s a snowball effect —the more you express gratitude, the more natural and subconscious it becomes.
Take time to reflect. Sometimes the key to being grateful is simply slowing down. Stop running around long enough to think about how you got to where you are. As soon as you do so, you’ll realize pretty quickly all the help you’ve had. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you get caught up in the day-to-day grind.
Jumpstart your gratitude behavior now, while the holidays are here. So when the new year starts, you’ll have made it a daily habit, one thank you at a time, to bring gratitude to life and work every day.
Cynthia Indriso '86PH is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and management strategies for business people working internationally across cultures. Certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF) as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), her expertise is concentrated in more than 25 years of international experience. Cynthia specializes in career/industry transition and coaches in both English and Spanish. Cynthia currently divides her time between New York City and Barcelona, where she's been based since 1997.