Gratitude is a powerful leadership skill.  If you can cultivate a thankful culture in your organisation, you’re creating an environment filled with happy, motivated teams who work harder and faster. That’s because everyone likes to feel valued and appreciated. That’s the essence of gratitude. 

Most leaders know the value of gratitude but few actually practise it in their workplace. Why? Perhaps it’s because leaders think that being generous with their praises is a sign of weakness or vulnerability.  The truth is being grateful is a sign of strength because our gratitude and appreciation are the foundation blocks to building a stronger and more resilient organisation. 

So, the next time you hesitate to let a staff member know how well he or she has performed, don’t hesitate. Say it. But only if you genuinely mean it. Gratitude is not lip service to kindness or flattery. It is a genuine heartfelt belief and conviction. 

1. Self-love

The path to self-love comes in three parts according to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. Chopra and Winfrey has an amazing meditation series titled ‘Desire and Destiny’  It teaches you how to expand the love you have into something bigger than yourself. According to the writers, 

in the beginning, you want and need love more than you are receiving it. You feel insecure about being lovable and relationships with others are a constant negotiation.  In the middle, you are aspiring to a higher level of love where you can love someone without needing them to love you back. In the final stage, love becomes unconditional. At this level, you feel love comes from within a spiritual source inside you. Pure compassion is possible and there is a sense of you being part of a bigger whole. 

Self-love is achieved if you can make a connection with yourself and honestly face your inner demons and resistance.  When you achieve self-love you learn to reflect on old wounds, forgive your past and start appreciating who you are. Some people spend a lifetime waiting for ‘the one’ to appear in their lives.  The only way to realistically find ‘the one is to be ‘the one’ yourself. Love and appreciate yourself first. Then the rest will follow.  

If you don’t appreciate yourself it’s hard for you to appreciate someone else. We’re all imperfect beings. Sometimes we are so busy chasing a perfect self that we become intolerant of our ‘real’ selves. We are our worst critics. We judge ourselves higher than we judge others and if we don’t make the cut, we become frustrated and angry. Frustration and anger get us nowhere. If we can learn to embrace ourselves for what we are – warts and all – we open up an entirely new perspective for ourselves.

My mentor once told me that there are two sides to every human being. There is the side that we are super proud of but there is also that other side that we are not proud of. If you can make peace with the latter, you are more than halfway in your journey of gratitude and appreciation.  

Need some help loving yourself? Here are some questions to challenge yourself. Ask yourself: 

  • How much do I love myself?
  • What do I love about myself?
  • What do I feel grateful for? 

Write down the answers then sit back and read what you’ve written. If you don’t love yourself, the answers you have written will be quite obvious. 

Learn to love yourself – warts and all.  You may need to reinforce this love to yourself over and over again until you start believing in yourself. With self-belief comes action because you get to the point where you genuinely want to be that better person or greater leader that you start doing things that can help you realise this dream.    

2. Acceptance

Acknowledgement is a start. Acceptance is the goal. In order for you to start practising gratitude and appreciation, you have to accept it first. Accepting gratitude and appreciation means accepting both the good and bad things in your life.  Unfortunately, you cannot just pick the good experiences to like and ignore all the not so good or bad things that have happened to you.  True acceptance means embracing both.  

Let’s say you made a mistake in an important project. You are mad with yourself.  Your clients are mad at you. Do you then decide to quit because you think you’re a failure? Or do you reflect on it and find ways not only to improve but to prevent yourself from repeating the mistake? If you can accept the bad things you are one step closer to building resilience. Instead of giving up and quitting, you are motivated to become better. That’s how great leadership starts. When you can look at every difficulty or problem as a challenge that you can overcome. 

Life is full of ups and downs. We cannot predict either. We deal with it when we cross the bridge but we don’t let the bad dictate our future. When the pandemic hit two years ago, I nearly lost the business.  No amount of planning or foresight prepared us for what was about to hit. If we didn’t pivot to an online mode, we could have gone under and our staff who depended on us for their livelihoods would have lost their jobs. The last two years were tough for everyone. If there’s one lesson I have learned from it, it is to be grateful for what I have. I am grateful that I still have the business. I am even more grateful that my people stuck with us during the hard times and are still with us today.  

Likewise if you want to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation of your employees, you can’t pick and choose only the people you like.  It’s a blanket strategy that is applied to every employee – even the weakest member of the team. Learn to accept everyone for their strengths and their faults. Praise them where praise is due and help them when they need help. You can only do this if you are authentic and genuine in your appreciation of people.  

3. Congruence and authenticity

Congruence and authenticity are elements that build trust. Have you ever met someone who goes through great lengths to tell you who they are but somehow what they say doesn’t ring true?  Or the times you say something you don’t mean and in the process upset or hurt another person?

Incongruence is obvious to others.  For example, a leader who tells his team that he or she believes in raising the people up but has never invested any time or money to design a reward system that appreciates employee contribution is not congruent.  

Developing congruence is part of great leadership.  When you are not congruent, you are inauthentic. If you say what you don’t mean or mean what you don’t say, people around you pick this up. Hence, if you give lip service to gratitude and appreciation, your people will know you don’t really mean it.  If you want your teams to be on your side, you have to be genuine with what you say and do. Flattery will get you nowhere. It’s better to be honest, truthful and authentic. 

Showing appreciation and gratitude does not have to be limited to only big contributions. Every effort is a contribution. Start with the small things if you don’t have any big things to be thankful for. When added together, small dots become a big universe. If you are keen to practise appreciation and gratitude, start by recognising the contribution of every member of your team. The more you express your genuine gratitude, the more your people will bond with you. Over time they learn to trust and respect you. They may even want to work harder to help you succeed because they see your success as part of their success.   

Gratitude and appreciation are closely linked to humility. Humility is not modesty.  True humility is a mindset that involves focusing more on others and less on yourself. It is the ability to recognise the strengths in others.  Humble leaders are more approachable, more willing to share and more forgiving of the mistakes that others make. Humble leaders are genuine in their appreciation of others and will do all they can to help others succeed.  When the people you lead realise that they are part of something bigger than themselves they are more likely to raise their game which in turn raises the bar for the organisation. All the people in the organisation working hard together is what makes an organisation great.   

Gratitude has the power to make us feel positive about the past, happy with the present and hopeful for the future. It is a powerful skill worth growing if you want to be a better leader to your people.  

In my bestselling book, ‘Great Leadership Starts with You’ I discussed the importance of gratitude and how showing appreciation can help you attract what you want in life. Buy a copy of the book here.

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