Why Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective
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Recently I had one of those days. Although nothing catastrophic happened, there were a series of minor events that didn't make for a good day. In turn -- as a result of my mood -- many of the daily road bumps felt worse than they really were. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and frustrated.
However, I didn’t want to spend what time I had left in the day feeling this crummy. It wasn’t fair to my family or me. The last thing I wanted was to be short with them or to lose sleep because I was tossing and turning. So, I took a few minutes for myself and focused on all the things that went right today. I also reflected on all the small things that made the day awesome.
And guess what? I didn’t just feel better. I felt amazing.
It may sound strange, but this is the power of gratitude. It’s one of the most effective ways to become not only a better leader but also a better person. But, if you are not convinced about this, let’s explain why leaders should practice gratitude and how they can do so every day.
How gratitude makes you a better leader.
Before I discuss how gratitude can make you a better leader -- I think everyone should be aware of why we know about the gratitude hook. The effects of gratitude were studied in the works of Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California, Davis. Emmons studied the impact of gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others. Immersed in this work for over a decade, Emmons found that gratitude comes with the following benefits:
- Stronger immune systems.
- Not as bothered by aches and pains.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Exercise more and take better care of their health.
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.
- Higher levels of positive emotions.
- More alert, alive, and awake.
- More joy, optimism, happiness, and pleasure.
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate.
- More forgiving.
- Feel less lonely and isolated and are more outgoing.
While those are all perks that anyone can enjoy, they’re particularly useful for anyone in a leadership position. If we’re not taking care of ourselves mentally and physically, coping with the demands of being a leader will be more difficult.
Research from Emmons and Anjali Mishra discovered that gratitude lowers stress. They also found that “gratitude enhances effortful goal striving.”
That’s well and good? But, what how can gratitude make you a better and more effective leader?
Nicole Lipkin writes that leaders should cultivate gratitude because it breeds engagement, more positive interactions, and builds resistance. What’s more, gratitude helps you acknowledge your accomplishments. Thankfulness encourages you to focus on your successes. You will not be consumed by the success or failures of your competitors, and you'll be making the world better for those around you.
Gratitude, while allowing you to embrace your accomplishments, also keeps your ego in check. That’s because appreciation will enable you to realize that without assistance from others, you wouldn’t be as successful. Maybe it’s because you have a spouse who was your primary source of support and inspiration. A business partner provided you with the finances to launch your business. Or, thanks to their hard work and dedication, your business idea has become a reality because of your employees.
Also, when we’re thankful and optimistic, others gravitate towards us. Being approachable and encouraging is critical when networking and attracting top talent. A study from the University of Pennsylvania that shows when leaders are grateful to their employees, the employees are 50 percent more successful.
Furthermore, a study conducted by David DeSteno at Northwestern University found that being thankful or appreciative improves financial patience. And in the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “It’s impossible not to stay motivated or get too down when you’re feeling grateful.”
How leaders can practice gratitude daily.
If you’re ready to tap into the power of gratitude, here are nine simple ways you can practice gratitude day in and out.
1. Schedule time every day to reflect with gratitude.
I get it. You have so much on your plate that I doubt practicing gratitude is a priority or at the top of your mind. However, if you block out a specific time to practice gratitude in your calendar, it will become a priority. And, eventually, recognition of what you have to be thankful for will turn into a habit.
For example, you can up your game of awareness by scheduling time to reflect with gratitude during a break. Consider a meditation-moment by closing your eyes and thinking about any pleasant surprises you've experienced so far. Imagine what life would be like without your employees. Consider how good your business is doing -- and the thanks should go to your customers, employees and your community.
Personally, I’ve made gratitude a part of my nightly routine. I jot down everything that I’m thankful for in a gratitude journal. It’s a great way to end the day and puts things in perspective during those more challenging days.
2. Be authentic.
Gratitude is more effective when it’s authentic. For example, if an employee just completed a project, you can do more than offer a generic “thanks." Name a specific action, saying something like, “Thanks, Jim, for getting this project to me before the due date. I appreciate that you’re so reliable.”
3. Celebrate wins both big and small.
We all love celebrating the significant milestones, and, you definitely shouldn’t stop doing that. But the massive breakthroughs don't happen daily. However, each day, you encounter smaller victories and happy moments. With that in mind, if you catch a team member doing something awesome, don’t hesitate to let them know you like that and appreciate their efforts. Those seemingly unimportant words of encouragement will add-up over time.
4. Compliment your team daily.
Compliments should be authentic and genuine, and you may need to practice the effort of saying something if you sound phony. Don't be one-of-those leaders who say, "sure appreciate you" while reading a report. Keep in mind the importance of eye contact, an actual win, a real compliment. When your efforts are genuine, it makes the other person feel like a million bucks and becomes natural to you.
Examples could be complimenting your colleagues on their sense of humor, asking questions, always arriving early, or taking the initiative. Other options could be recognizing how helpful someone on the team is to others -- their positive attitude, and their creativity or knowledge.
5. Don’t forget to acknowledge your unsung heroes.
Every workplace has a “rockstar.” That’s necessarily a bad thing. But, you don’t want to always shine the spotlight on them. Give a shoutout to the back-up-singers, the backing band and roadies as well. Recognize your support columns, not just your angel-corbels at the top.
For example, I always give a shoutout and occasionally send my freelancers goodies. Sending something demonstrates to them that I appreciate their hard work, and it also makes them feel like a part of the team.
6. Take an interest in your organization.
I would say that taking an interest could be the most natural thing you could do to show your employees your gratitude. Just take a couple of minutes to shoot the breeze with them. Some of your employees have no one but the team to depend on for support. You can include them as part of your team by giving them a shout-out.
Send an email, shoot out a quick Slack -- do something. Ask your team questions so that you get to know who they are. Inquire about how they’re doing, and what they’re into and thinking about. It’s a simple way to show that you care about them as a person and that they’re a part of your organization’s community.
7. Provide learning opportunities.
Research from ClearCompany shows that 76 percent of employees want opportunities for career growth. Go ahead and provide them with personal and professional learning opportunities. Examples are online classes, in-person workshops, or the chance to attend an industry conference -- maybe even meeting up with you and your group.
8. Let employees have a say.
When employees have the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their ideas, they feel more valued. It’s also another way to express your gratitude since it lets them know that you want them involved in big decisions and successes.
You can always try out the good ole suggestion box. But, I think it’s more effective to solicit feedback from your team and leave time at the end of meetings with them, to add their input.
9. Create a positive work culture.
Finally, fostering a positive work culture will make your team more productive, happy, creative, and collaborative. Cultivating a positive culture amid the mad rush in tech also demonstrates that you value and respect your team as people and not just another cog in the business wheel.
There are numerous ways you can achieve a positive atmosphere. You can start by greeting your employees when they arrive every morning. You could also surprise them by buying lunch, playing games on a Friday afternoon, and being respectful of their time. Don’t forget to grant your team autonomy and address any toxic behaviors ASAP.