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As weird as it is to say this, “gratitude” is a bit of a buzz word right now, which is both good and bad. I think gratitude is incredibly important – to our health, our happiness and our ability to lead. Amongst other things, gratitude can…
- Improve our brain’s ability to solve problems and think creatively
- Make us happier
- Improve our relationships
- Make us healthier
- Boost our self-esteem
The problem is that gratitude is sometimes thrown around like it’s the magic pill to anything and everything. It’s used as a Band-Aid, causing us to simply gloss over problems with platitudes. I’d actually argue that this form of “gratitude” isn’t really gratitude at all – it’s avoidance.
True gratitude is much more a way of being than something we can do. It’s more about cultivating character than having another tool in our toolbox. It’s about choosing to adopt a way of thinking about our lives and the world around us that helps us react more positively, garners greater positive influence, and creates a culture in which people can be at their best. It doesn’t mean ignoring or glossing over problems or refusing to look at a situation with complete honesty.
Cultivating a deep sense of gratitude can have a tremendously positive affect on personal and organizational performance, and simply make us better leaders. This is true for a few different reasons.
More carrot, less stick.
Expressing praise and gratitude for a job well done is often a more powerful method of influencing change than criticism. It’s easy to understand why. Most of us will work harder for someone who recognizes and appreciates us. We’re hungry for appreciation. We want those around us to recognize that what we do actually matters.
However, for many of us, criticism seems to spring up naturally, while expressing praise is something that has to be deliberately remembered. Cultivating gratitude within ourselves is one way to increase the likelihood that our first reaction will be more positive and less critical. This can have a spiral affect, nudging those around us towards more optimistic, constructive, creative and encouraging way of thinking, positively influencing the entire culture of our organization.
From victim to change agent.
When we are under stress, or surrounded by stressed out people, our brains have a way of shutting down. We are less discriminating and tend to make poor decisions. We’ve all experienced this, haven’t we? Stress causes us to want to protect ourselves, blocking new thoughts, creativity and our ability to ask good questions and make new connections. Gratitude can help us – and those around us – move out of this pattern. Exercising gratitude can help us move from victim to creator by shifting our perspective from things happening to us, to recognizing our ability to be an agent of change. For example, let’s say there’s a shift in the market that causes sales to plummet. Rather than feeling like a victim of circumstances beyond our control, we can see it as an opportunity to create the next big thing.
So how can you cultivate a stronger culture of gratitude within your organization?
- Train everyone in authority to say “thank-you” more often. It’s great when anyone tells us we are appreciated. But, it holds more weight when the person with the “thank you” is our boss.
- Make an effort to thank the people who never get thanked. Every organization has at least one person responsible for “thankless” work. These individuals tend to be behind-the-scenes, in support roles that are crucial to everyone’s success, but easy to overlook. Identify who these people are in your organization and make it a point to show them regular recognition and appreciation.
- Be authentic. Forcing gratitude simply doesn’t work. Be specific about exactly what you are grateful for and why. If you don’t fully buy into it, your people won’t either.
- Create a variety of opportunities for gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, institute a public gratitude program that allows employees to recognize each other’s contributions, give gifts and awards, etc.
- Remember that gratitude is especially important during a crisis. As I mentioned before, stress can be detrimental to problem solving and forward motion, so remember to recognize gains in the midst of disasters, large or small.
By cultivating gratitude within yourself and revealing a grateful attitude to your team, you will inevitably encourage others to do the same. The thing to remember is that small changes in the way we think and behave in everyday situations can have a cumulative effect. Regardless of the current cultural climate within your organization, transformation is possible. But, as usual, the transformation must start with those who accept their responsibility to lead it.