This time of year, it’s easy to express gratitude. With Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, we are reminded almost daily of the need to share our thoughts to others about the value we see in them and how they enrich our lives. Add a small gift of some kind… and you’ve done your job as a leader, right? WRONG!
There are at least 10 other months of the year where the drive to get so much done with your team may cause you to neglect to stop and express appreciation to them. And with all the reasons we know gratitude is beneficial, you’re also missing the chance to build a stronger team and improve your own well-being.
If you’re guilty of being that leader who only focuses on saying “Thank you” in November or December or thinks a gift card is always the best choice, try these five strategies to improve your attitude and behaviors about gratitude all year:
Schedule “Gratitude Time”
Like other disciplines, having an “attitude of gratitude” takes practice. With the overload that exists in our lives, it’s too easy to be focused on what needs to be accomplished (i.e. what’s lacking) rather than acknowledging what we already have. I coach several hard-charging leaders and it’s humorous when I ask them to assess their day or week. They usually share one positive situation but then quickly shift to all the places they “aren’t quite there yet.” You can sense their mental and emotional fatigue as they see the gap between where they are and where they want to be. What gets them recharged is forcing them to look at all the things (not just one) that are already going well in their life.
To build and maintain my own “gratitude muscle” I invest 3-5 minutes each morning on making a gratitude list for the previous day. I use an app called Gratitude 365 that makes recording them on the appropriate day easier. There is even a place where you can add a picture that reminds you of one of the items you recorded. Starting my day in this way causes me to look for more people or circumstances to be grateful for throughout the day.
Speak Their Gratitude Language
Once you are more mindful of what you are grateful for about others, the next step is choosing how to express that gratitude. In their insightful book, The 5 Languages Of Appreciation In The Workplace, Gary Chapman and Paul White cite five different “languages” or ways we like to be appreciated. They include:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Acts of service
- Tangible gifts
- Physical touch
Knowing which ones most resonate with the people on your team helps you better plan how to offer your thanks to them in a more meaningful way.
While listening may not seem like a way to show gratitude to others, reflect for a moment how you felt the last time someone really listened to you. I’ll bet you felt important, valued, and trusted. Isn’t that how any expression of gratitude should make someone feel? Deep listening happens so rarely in the breakneck pace of today’s workplaces. Be the exception and seek to show others how appreciative you are of them by the way you listen to them. Doug Conant, in his blog, Listening Like A Leader, shares three ways to listen more intently. They are:
- Listen with your head for the evidence
- Listen with your heart for the energy
- Listen exponentially to all the other voices that touch the issue
Accept Gratitude From Your Team
If you want your expressions of gratitude to be meaningful, you need to be gracious in accepting words of thanks from those on your team. On more than one occasion I’ve been meeting with an employee and their boss stops by. The employee will say something positive about the boss and they reply with, “Oh I’m not all that” or “Remind me to pay you later.” It trivializes the gift the employee was trying to give to their boss, even if they were trying to be funny. A better approach when a team member expresses gratitude for who you are is to respond with, “Why thank you. That’s so kind of you to say (or do).”
Ask “How Can I Help?” (and mean it)
With the workload facing so many teams today, it’s easy for the leader to be more transactional than relational. And if the leader gives the impression that they are so busy just trying to keep their head above water, employees are less likely to seek help or guidance when they need it. When you say, “How can I help?” you are putting the focus squarely on them and their needs. It invites more open dialogue about solving problems and builds a stronger personal connection.
With just a few simple routines you can grow into the type of leader who gets the best effort from every person on your team… because you see (and acknowledge) the best in them all year. Now THAT would be something to be grateful for.