Why Gratitude is an Essential Leadership Skill

By Sarah Sain, CAE • November 21, 2019

Gratitude is a powerful – yet often underappreciated and underutilized – leadership skill that can transform your organization.

A number of studies over the years have linked gratitude to happiness, improved health, resiliency, stronger relationships and heightened productivity – even better sleep. So when you cultivate a thankful culture within your organization, you’re creating an environment where your team can thrive.

Gratitude is about appreciating the people behind your organization’s success and acknowledging the contributions they make each and every day. In the midst of deadlines and board meetings, it can be difficult to take the time to stop and offer encouragement or a pat on the back. However, it is well worth the investment and will pay dividends to recognize when a team member has completed a project, overcome a major hurdle or hit a milestone.

In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of more than 7,500 managers, 21% said they avoid giving negative feedback. However, even more resisted giving praise, with 37% admitting they don’t provide positive reinforcement either.

We all know feedback is essential to learn and grow in any organization, so how do you create a space where constructive, encouraging comments are the norm? Practicing gratitude within your organization allows you to build trust with the individuals on your team and with your customers as well. With that trust at the core of your relationships, honest conversations can take place with respect and an open mind.

What this means though is that gratitude is not optional, and it can’t just happen occasionally or by accident. Gratitude must be practiced intentionally and frequently so that it becomes a habit ingrained in your organization’s culture.

And that habit must start at the top. Leaders create the culture within their organizations through their words, actions and interactions. For everyone at your association to enjoy the benefits of practicing gratitude – the improved health, those stronger relationships, the increased productivity – your top tier staff must lead by example and create an atmosphere where gratitude is seen as adding value and contributing to success.

There are a number of ways to show gratitude on a regular basis:

  • Encourage hand-written thank you notes by keeping blank cards stocked and available in your break room. A personalized note is still one of best ways to brighten someone’s day.
  • Start a Slack channel specifically for shout-outs. On the Naylor Content Team, we call this channel #brag-board and everyone is encouraged to recognize when a team member goes the extra mile.
  • Offer occasional spontaneous gifts to your team in the form of an extra time off, permission to work remotely for the day, coffee and yummy baked goods, or small gift cards to their favorite local business. The key is to offer a gift the person will enjoy and appreciate most.
  • Finally, don’t wait for annual performance reviews to recognize team members who go above and beyond. Add a standing Good News item on your agenda for regular team meetings. Take two minutes at the beginning to praise a team member for something they’ve recently accomplished, and watch how the mood of your meeting becomes more open and productive.

If you’re thinking this all sounds like fluff – it’s not. There is a business case for emphasizing gratitude within your association. Leaders who recognize team members with specific, timely positive feedback unlock new potential and inspire them to strive for bigger goals. This positively affects job performance and overflows into a richer customer experience. Plus, according to a 2013 Glassdoor Employee Appreciation Survey, it impacts recruitment and retention efforts for your organization because motivated team members are more likely to stay longer at their organizations.

As positive psychology expert and author of “The Happiness Advantage” Shawn Achor said in his popular TED Talk: “Happiness is an incredible competitive advantage.”

When gratitude comes not only from leaders but also from team members and colleagues, it fosters teamwork and cooperation and promotes empathy and compassion. Your team members are no longer just out for themselves; they instead gain a personal stake in the success of others and the team as a whole.

Morale plays an important role within a team, and expressing gratitude is one of the fastest ways to increase morale in a real way. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be recognized. Everyone wants to feel like what they do matters.

As President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Choose to live and lead with gratitude every day.

To read more about four simple ways you can encourage gratitude within your association, visit Event Garde’s Healthy by Association blog.

About The Author

Sarah Sain is director of content, member communications for Naylor Association Solutions. She can be reached at ssain@naylor.com, or follow her on Twitter at @ssain7.