I totally get it. As we move headlong into the holiday season and still feel bewildered by any number of things 2020 has dealt us, it’s easy to slip into a less-than-cheerful point of view.
The truth is Thanksgiving and Christmas will look very different for many families and friends this year as the reality of the ongoing public health crisis upends gatherings and typical celebrations. Still, it’s safe to assume most of us don’t really have to look very hard to find reasons why we should have an attitude of thankfulness—not just for the benefits it offers for our own personal mental health, but also because of the incredible effects ongoing, deliberate gratitude shown by leaders can have on teams.
I posed a couple of questions to several members of the Milestone Leadership team to get their thoughts and perspectives on the significance of leaders who make a culture of gratitude a priority. As you read their comments, I challenge you to think back to times in your own career when someone who expressed thankfulness made a real difference for you or your team…and how you might make a conscious practice of regularly cultivating and demonstrating gratitude towards others. You could be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the impact can take hold.
How does having an attitude of gratitude make a person a better leader?
“Gratitude is a social emotion and therefore has the ability to strengthen relationships. When you encounter a leader who lives with a spirit of gratitude, it often makes them more human, more approachable, more inspiring. We spend most of our time as leaders thinking critically or solving problems. Gratitude requires reflection and leaders worth following often spend a healthy portion of their time in reflection.” –Alex Cornett, Milestone Partner
“A leader who practices gratitude naturally influences positivity in the organization. As stated in an article from University of California at Berkeley titled How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain, ‘Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.’ In the university’s research, people who wrote letters of gratitude began to use more positive emotion words and also began to use ‘we’ more rather than ‘I’ in their communication. These practices infuse positivity into a culture.” – Sandy Tush, Milestone Partner:
“A grateful leader tends to have a more outward focus. Gratitude necessitates an outward focus and less focus on self. Leaders focused on others are more equipped to exercise effective leadership than self-focused ones.” –Erik Dees, Milestone Partner
“From my own perspective, gratitude takes the focus off of myself and the frustrations or inconveniences of everyday life. It helps me to have a more well-rounded perspective which then translates to how I lead others. I can’t help those I lead to have an appropriate perspective on our challenges if I don’t have a healthy perspective myself.” –Stephanie Brown, Operations Manager
“Gratitude helps cultivate successful leaders and teams through a trustworthiness for one another. When leaders are thankful and show this gratitude to those on their team, a sense of understanding and trust is gained.” –Micayla Christensen, Soderquist Fellow
How can a leader help cultivate a culture of gratitude and why does it matter?
“A great way to cultivate a culture of gratitude is to infuse it into weekly meetings. Get in the habit of starting the meeting in a non-standard way. Usually we tend to get right to business—but consider taking the first few minutes for recognition, or allow teammates to share what they appreciate about one another.” –Alex
“The most powerful way a leader can help cultivate a culture of gratitude is to demonstrate it. Some specific ways include:
- Express thankfulness for the organization’s success rather than taking it for granted.
- Speak specific words of appreciation both privately and in public to colleagues for their efforts, behaviors, and results.
- Say ‘thank you’ to customers and clients for the opportunity to do work with them.
“Gratitude requires intention. Leaders can grow their ‘gratitude muscle’ by simply acknowledging gratitude for the simple and smallest of things, like having a job. This can be done via journaling. The act of expressing gratitude—even on paper—validates and cements the practice of gratitude. A culture of gratitude creates an environment in which people want to work. A culture of ingratitude establishes an environment from which people want to escape.” –Erik
“I find it important to express gratitude often myself and to be specific – tell my team that I’m thankful for them and exactly why or what I’m thankful for. Doing this in a more public setting such as a team meeting sets an example for others.” -Stephanie
“A leader can cultivate a culture of gratitude by giving grace and praise where they are due. These are what will lead the team and set the stage for how others on the team interact with each other.” –Micayla
Written by: Kelly Syer, Milestone Leadership Associate