Grateful Leaders Are Some of The Best Leaders. Here's Why.




Larry Seal


Over the last decade or so, thanks to teachers like Brother David Steindl-Rast, the power of personally cultivating and then expressing gratefulness has an immense impact (both for the one being grateful and the person being acknowledged).

According to the experts, some people are naturally more inclined to reflect on and feel and then express deep emotions like gratefulness. . The experts also say that the practice of tapping into and then expressing your gratitude can be cultivated.  If you don’t think of yourself as a naturally grateful person, or rather you can feel it but expressing it directly seems impossibly difficult, it might be easy to throw your hands up and say “Well, that’s something I feel sometimes but I’m just not the sort of person who does that.” That is a profound missed opportunity to grow as a person, nurture and reinforce relationships and lead others.

The truth is that anyone can learn to be more grateful. Anyone can learn to explore and then express a sentiment powerfully and with authenticity.  Almost immediately people will experience massive improvement in their lives and relationships both as people and leaders in the workplace.  From a leadership perspective, they will see a deepened ability to create trust, commitment and loyalty. In short, grateful leaders are often the most powerful and impactful leaders.

Let’s find out why. 

1. Gratitude is an attitude 

As cheesy as “gratitude is an attitude” may sound, it's absolutely true . We don’t like cute sayings at EngagedLeadership … but this one is too good to miss … apologies!.

If you struggle to feel grateful on your own, there is so much opportunity to change that. The more you tell yourself that it's impossible to grow in thankfulness, the harder it will be to break out of that mindset. 

Our EngagedLeadership Coaches often say “Gratitude is an attitude, attitude is a skill, a skill is a habit, and a habit can be learned and mastered.” 

This perspective reminds us that gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. We can grow in gratitude just like we would any other skill. It does take focus and intention and some practice but that is just like every other worthwhile skill, you do a little more because you know this will allow you to more skillfully, gracefully and impactfully navigate the world.

Gratitude can feel different from other workplace skills because it never shows up on the annual goals, quarterly KPI’s or performance reviews (at least directly and by name). Gratitude in the business world is often labeled “soft”. Wrong … it's core, even foundational - not soft. 

 Gratitude can be hard for leaders to focus on because they can’t see it immediately serving the business goals they are charged with achieving nor really seeing its impact on those around them.  This is an enormous missed leadership opportunity.

 As we just described, leaders neglect to practice thankfulness, not because they intellectually don’t believe it is an impactful human gesture and perspective; but rather because it is almost never spoken of, let alone encouraged, let alone measured in the workplace! 


2. Gratitude aids leadership

Leadership and gratitude are inextricably connected because leaders are the people MOST RESPONSIBLE for creating environments where others can thrive. They have the significant power to set others up for: success or failure, confidence or worry, full creative engagement or minimal effort. A leader’s ability and willingness to cultivate and express gratitude WILL directly impact their team’s day to day, week, to week engagement, effort, focus and accountability around their work. .

Highly impactful, mature leaders show gratitude for what has been accomplished, for the efforts expended, for the care and dedication individuals demonstrate to helping the team and company succeed. Less mature leaders can appreciate the idea, but if asked why they don’t take the time and effort to actually do it … their response is often some version of “this is what they get paid for, what else do they need?”  If you could peer inside their head and hear that “thought bubble” my guess is you would not want that leader heading up your most important work or managing your most critical and valued talent.

So, how to jump-start this thinking? 

Start by being grateful for what’s right in front of you. 

Ask yourself, today, who and what am I grateful for? 

  • Who goes beyond the minimum, who reaches out to help others, who does the right thing when no one is watching?
  • Who accepts responsibility for outcomes without pointing fingers, who works collaboratively with others? 

Your answers to these questions will lead you to many people and circumstances that invite your attention and words.  

Intentionally enhancing your ability to appreciate your life, your gifts and to be grateful for what surrounds you in your life is a common practice for those who report higher levels of inner peace and life satisfaction. All of the world's spiritual traditions have millennia-old traditions for cultivating and expanding personal gratitude for the world around them as a core path to contentment.  

Bottom line - this isn't a secret tool, but rather it is a well-worn path that the most aware and impactful humans throughout history, the wise ones, the ones others follow and who accomplish seemingly impossible goals, look to nurture throughout all of the activities in their lives .. knowing it serves them and everyone they touch.  

Gratefulness for many leaders we know begins with recognizing their good fortune to be born into a life with far greater opportunities than most others in this world. Then they move to gratitude for a beautiful sunrise or their morning cup of coffee or reading with their children for a few minutes, and extend it to a meeting that went better than expected, or that team member who went above and beyond when they didn’t have to.  

The steps are easy, look around, see the many parts of your life and work that are good, and then express it out loud and step into the shoes of a leader that inspires, engages, creates loyalty and ultimately ripples of positive results, tangible and less so. Just the act of intentionally looking for the good creates positive ripples in your perspective and approach.

Wise leaders also use gratitude to reframe the inevitable hard situations, they ask themselves and those around the:

  • How can we optimize this situation?
  • What can we do?
  • What do we have to build on?
  • Where might we get some support?
  • Where are we fortunate despite this setback? 

It’s not that these leaders don’t get frustrated but they CHOOSE to shift their focus to a mental and emotional place that helps them and all of those around them feel most resourceful and capable

3. Sharing gratitude creates an impact 

As we have described, developing a personal practice that cultivates gratitude creates a very powerful tool for yourself and others. Said simply, the more grateful you can become, the more that will ripple out to all of the people in your life, at home and at work.

As we noted above, there is a further step to actually activate the gratitude that you cultivate. YOU MUST share that gratitude out loud with your team! 

They must hear it, they must experience it, they must be able to sense that you actually feel an authentic sense of gratitude and appreciation. People can sniff out inauthenticity in a minute, so the mere act of mouthing words of appreciation without actually feeling it will actually hurt trust in the relationship. It feels like an inauthentic “rah-rah” talk. Important Safety Tip! You would be far better off just ignoring gratitude as a leadership tool altogether if you aren't willing to do the work of truly feeling it and then openly and honestly expressing and sharing it. 

The best leaders are willing to do a little internal work and then apply some leadership courage to be out loud with a message that expresses something that people don’t hear every day at work. They demonstrate the courage to be the rare kind of leader, one who looks to inspire themselves and those around them by showing a very human part of themselves.

Studies show that if given a choice, employees would choose to hear appreciation from those they work with, over getting a bonus. And bonuses are important to most of us! But again and again, businesses see that a bonus isn't enough to retain an employee for long. There is a burst of satisfaction and then quickly they feel “underpaid again”.  The wise leader recognizes that when people feel and hear authentic appreciation and gratitude for their talents and efforts … that impact does not fade. They say, “People join companies but they leave bosses.” In our experience, they rarely leave bosses that authentically demonstrate that they truly value and are grateful for their employees.

There is so much power in openly demonstrating your appreciation for your team. When we poll participants in our Leadership Mastery Series, and they are asked … what is the single most powerful characteristic of the best leader you have ever had …. The number one response by far, every time is, ”They cared about me and my success”. 

When you dig into that response and ask, “How do you know they cared?”. Their replies can be summarized this way - “They told me and showed me they appreciated my talents, my efforts, what I brought to my work.” These “best in class” managers are doing more than managing work. They were out loud with their support and encouragement and gratitude and that created a group of people who felt their manager helped them achieve things they felt they never would have been able to on their own. 

In the classroom and in coaching conversations, when we share employees' responses to this question the conclusion leaders come to is that the ability to generate and express real gratitude and appreciation is always a foundational part of leadership exceptionalism. Better yet, it isn't that hard to do once you practice a little. 

If you are intrigued with the opportunity to strengthen and deepen your ability to increase your leadership impact, please reach out and schedule a call with EngagedLeadership today. We’re here to help you become the best leader you can be. 


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