Gratitude: an Underutilised Tool in the Responsible Leader’s Playbook

The negativity, worry and uncertainty sweeping the globe at the moment is undeniably impacting our interactions at work and at home. With workforces unsure of what their job security may look like in the long-term, it falls to the responsible leader to steer their organisation with integritymindfulness  and intentional listening in order to defuse tension and ensure productivity, wellbeing and morale remain high. Often overlooked however, is the power of gratitude to bind these traits together. Showing appreciation for your team is the foundation of a positive outlook and building a productive team. Gratitude as an emotion blocks negativity: you cannot, for example feel grateful and envious at the same time. Therefore by removing a pessimistic outlook from your leadership style and instead focusing on the wins and appreciating your teams value, you will open the gateway to breeding kindness, and allow space for mindful and intentional leadership.  

Ensuring that you show your thanks in an authentic way is key. Your gratitude should come from a place of genuine appreciation and it should be specific – if you fake it, or send out cookie cutter messages all the time, it will probably be very obvious to your team. Keep people at the centre of your expressions of thanks: customise your thanks-giving. Do not, for example call out an introverted person in a large general meeting. Think about their preferences and tailor a note or find a more intimate way to show your appreciation. Also remember to keep people and their actions, rather than the business outcome as the focus of your gratitude or attention. Do not fall into the trap of turning your gratitude into a profit and loss analysis.  


Build a Culture of Appreciation  

By showing gratitude for the hard work that your team are doing, or acknowledging the extra mile that they are going to deliver work in these unusual and changing circumstances, you can begin to breed a culture of engagement and appreciation. Celebrating accomplishments throughout the project cycle encourages you and your team to focus on successes rather than honing in on failures or comparing unnecessarily to competitors. Leading by example, showing appreciation and care for your organisation will spread through the team. The ripple effect of positive affirmation is incredibly powerful and new joiners to your team will quickly pick up on signals that this is not the type of organisation where people spend time complaining at the water-cooler. Likewise, maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for negative or disrespectful behaviour is key. Toxicity can spread just as rapidly as gratitude in the workplace, so you must weed it out in its infancy.  


Look After Your Own Wellbeing  

According to Robert Emmons, gratitude can have a variety of positive benefits for your own wellbeing:  

  • Physical Benefits: such as stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and better sleep;  

  • Psychological Benefits: such as positivity, feeling more alert and more optimistic or happy; and  

  • Social Benefits: such as being more generous, forgiving and having fewer feelings of loneliness or isolation.  

We know from our previous explorations of kindness and happiness and their impact on wellbeing in the workplace how beneficial empathy, caring and optimism can be when leading and inspiring a team and gratitude should absolutely fall into this category. Healthy and happy leaders inspire healthy and happy teams and this mantra should ring true for all leaders reflecting on their own outlook and impact.  


Set a Positive Example to Encourage Better Behaviour  

Unfortunately, our polite practices and graces can often evaporate when we cross the threshold in to the workplace. Studies suggest that while around half of us regularly show thanks and appreciation to family members, only about 15% of us adopt the same practice in the office. This lack of thanks at work for our colleagues has been described as the ‘gratitude gap' and is something that must be addressed to tackle negative workplace culture. Interestingly, Adam Grant of the Wharton Business School theorises that the gratitude gap exists in the workplace because we do not want to admit we need help when at work.  Therefore - by not thanking our colleagues – we mask our inability to perform a task on our own. A responsible leader should counteract this assumption head on and vocalise their thanks regularly – ensuring that the bar for collaboration and acknowledgement is set high within their organisation.  


Enhance Employee Satisfaction  

People tend to gravitate towards those with a positive and grateful outlook. By breeding a culture of gratitude and respect in the office you will not only enhance your chances of attracting the top talent, but also nurture an environment in which they can flourish , as well as ensuring that you retain skilled workers who will stay for the positive office culture. General employee wellbeing is impacted by the office culture. An environment where people feel valued and comfortable bringing their whole selves to work will fuel productivity and creativity, while simultaneously reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. Not only is gratitude good for your health and that of your employees, but it can in fact be good for business too.  


Quick Tips to Encourage Gratitude at Work 

  • Offer thank you cards for employees to use to send short notes of appreciation either internally or externally.  

  • Install a gratitude wall where employees can share shout-out messages or congratulate each other.  

  • Start meetings with a show of gratitude so that you have a regular forum to show thanks. You could take this to the next level and have everyone attending the meeting share one thing they are grateful for.  

  • Acknowledge the wins even when things haven’t gone to plan. Gratitude in the face of a negative outcome helps to channel analysis and identify new opportunities arising from adversity. It also encourages your team to remain upbeat and focused, ready for the next challenge. Also make space to show gratitude for small milestones and achievements.  

  • Show thanks to the unsung heroes. Support staff, freelancers and backoffice employees all play a role in the smooth operation and success of your business. Ensure you show gratitude to everyone, not just those closing the deals. 


About the Author: Emily Moss, Head of Marketing & Communications at Community Business