Let’s start with a question.
How did you feel the last time someone provided you with a sincere thank you or kudos for something you did?
If I’m a good judge of human nature , I suspect it made you feel pretty good. Perhaps your body generated a nice surge of dopamine. I would also suspect that it generated some good will towards the person who said the nice thing about you. You felt seen, and valued- two of the things that we know are so important to developing a sense of empowerment and belonging. And, of course, empowerment and belonging result in loyalty.
Gratitude is an important, and sometimes underestimated, leadership skill. Let me be clear about one thing before you decide to just go around saying, “Thank you” to everyone in sight. That won’t get it. Appreciation needs to be personalized, and if you can be creative in how you show appreciation, all the better. Personally, one of the best acknowledgements I’ve received recently was from a friend and sorority sister whom I work closely with. Last weekend I couldn’t run my planned half marathon because of illness. And the text I got from her….well, it knocked my socks off. It was a well-timed reminder that I can do hard things, I just couldn’t do them last Sunday morning. And that’s okay. She is someone with an incredible gift of gratitude and appreciation, and it makes her FUN to work on big projects with. It also makes her a wonderful friend.
Appreciative Leadership has a summary table of 7 reasons to be generous with appreciation. Taken from Table 6-1 in the book, the list is as follows:
- Recognition lets people know they are on the right track
- Appreciation communicates and reinforces your values
- Compliments foster a positive emotional environment
- Gratitude is a verbal immune boost; it is good for your health (we’ll come back to this one shortly)
- Praise is good for the health of those you honor
- Acknowledgement creates a sense of safety (SO important in teaching and learning environments!)
- Gratitude encourages risk-taking and experimentation
The reality is that a culture of gratitude helps to promote high performance by teams.
Here’s the thing: While appreciation is the right thing to do for your team, it’s also the right thing to do for yourself. Many individual-level benefits of practicing gratitude are becoming increasingly clear: it improves both physical and psychological health, enhances empathy, improves sleep, enhances resiliency…the list goes on. If you look at that list closely and if you follow the literature on burnout, you immediately recognize that gratitude might just be one of the cornerstones in combating burnout. Again, from personal experience I know that on days when I am feeling particularly frustrated and as if I’m tilting at windmills, the best thing I can do is pause and think about something I’m grateful for. On bad days, it might be that I’m only on call for 4 more hours. On less bad days, the list is typically much more robust.
Weekend homework, friends. Before you go to bed tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday night, write down (yes, write it down with pen or pencil on paper- it does imprint better that way!) three things you are grateful for. I’m helping you to kickstart your personal gratitude practice. Next week see if you can extend sincere appreciation to people you work with. I’m willing to bet you’ll make someone’s day and make them want to do an even better job the next time you work on something together.