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Gratitude: Great Leaders are Grateful Leaders

Gratitude is a leadership tool As the evenings draw in and suntans fade, thoughts turn to cosying-up by the fire and planning for 2020. For American friends and family, however, preparations for Thanksgiving are in full swing. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving is a national holiday in America. For Meghan, our Operations Manager who hails from Chicago, Thanksgiving means gratitude: for friends, family and the opportunity to share a meal. In our technological, consumer-driven world that too often is focused on what isn’t done or what we don’t have, it is good to encourage reflection and gratitude. It also urges us to count our blessings one by one. In fact, contemporary research suggests those who practice daily gratitude are happier and more content. For those involved in leadership, developing and implementing gratitude strategies can deliver a competitive edge in the ever-changing work environment. Gratitude can be a tool and a catalyst when building a healthy and positive workplace culture, which can be easily transferred to your customers – and your bottom line.

Understanding Gratitude

For the Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, gratitude was fundamental. It encourages us to do good and make good choices. He viewed gratitude as not just the greatest virtue, but ‘the parent of all the other virtues.’ And for Cicero, a kindness done needs to be paid forward. In general, academic research into gratitude supports such an understanding. The argument goes like this: when I experience gratitude, I appreciate what is good and fruitful in my life, which, in turn, encourages me to be more grateful and to act in a more grateful way towards others.

Gratitude starts when you acknowledge the good things present in your life

The Importance of Gratitude

Gratitude has many positive benefits. It works like glue, bonding new friendships together; it acts like fertiliser, enriching existing relationships; and, it underpins human societal relationships. Being grateful to others, whether they are family, friend or work colleagues creates a climate of positivity. A further important element noted by Cicero concerns the reciprocal nature of gratitude, which in practice means kindness encourages the recipient to be kind in return. Harness this in the workplace and you begin to build a great place in which to work. In turn, a grateful workforce will have a positive influence on your clients, which, in turn, is likely to be reflected in your bottom line.

Gratitude grows as you reflect on the good things others do for you

What Psychologists say about Gratitude

Psychologists have discovered that, viewed over time, feeling grateful increases individual happiness. In turn, increased gratitude raises levels of physical and psychological health, even among those with mental health issues. Research demonstrates the correlation between practicing gratitude and the reduction in the use of words expressing negative emotions. Gratitude moves the inner ‘conversation’ away from negative emotions, like resentment or jealousy, to a more positive, more inspiring space, with a more encouraging inner dialogue. Furthermore, the benefits of gratitude increase over time.  In controlled laboratory tests, people were given tasks that stimulated expressions of gratitude. The results were telling: they show lasting changes in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that specialises in executive functions: setting and achieving goals, the analysis of conflicting thoughts and the expected outcomes of certain actions. These changes increased sensitivity to future experiences of gratitude. What does this mean? By recognising positive things in your life, you become more receptive to future occurrences, which to maintain a more positive state of mind.  

Gratitude builds a Healthy Culture

Let’s be honest, the Western world is heavily materialistic. We are encouraged to consume mightily and to view possessions as the source of all happiness. If you don’t have something or haven’t achieved a goal, you’re unhappy and to feel unworthy. Businesses can be a part of this cycle. If, however, we purposely develop an attitude of gratitude, we begin to write a different narrative, one that benefits the self, work colleagues and clients. It encourages a positive regard for others, undermines cynicism, and feeds the idea that staff are valuable assets to the business. In other words, gratitude can be a tool and a catalyst when building a healthy workplace culture.  

Develop an attitude of gratitude

Growing Gratitude in the Workplace as a Leader

While financial viability is fundamental to an organisation’s growth, the contemporary business leader recognises that a healthier workforce can support long-term growth. As research shows that gratitude can be cultivated by ‘practicing’ it, a leader can put time aside to reflect upon and comprehend the benefits of the things they are grateful for. What might be interesting is to turn gratitude into a KPI and to develop a strategy for employee Rewards & Recognition to support this objective within an organisation.

Impactful, Influential Leadership

A title doesn’t make you a leader. What makes you a leader is your impact and your influence. Being aware of the nature and benefits of gratitude gives you impactful self-knowledge and a highly influential tool to use in the workplace. Reflect on what you have to be grateful for. Throw weekly grenades of gratitude into the lives of staff – and watch your workplace culture change for the better. What do you think? Do company leaders think they can develop gratitude as a KPI? Can gratitude have a positive influence on company culture? Should everyone just shut up and be thankful they have a job? We’d love to hear your stories and experiences. Dr Paul Gadie has a PhD in Theology. As well as being Managing Director of Gift Innovations, he writes about effective leadership and management in contemporary ecclesial life.
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