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Gratitude: The Secret to Leading Effectively Through Crisis

As we near the end of 2020, it’s safe to say that the only predictable thing about this year has been its unpredictability. Each day we wake up with new questions, worries and fears about the coronavirus pandemic and what the future holds for our government, organizations, and families. As a leader during this time, you face the extraordinary challenge of helping your organization effectively navigate a multitude of disruptions to the status quo as well as the stress and anxiety that comes with them. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to make yourself more emotionally resilient, strengthen your relationships and boost your immune system all while creating a workplace with higher levels of employee satisfaction, collaboration, engagement and innovation. Sound too good to be true? Research confirms that all of these benefits and more result from the simple but powerful practice of gratitude.

Some women leaders may shy away from offering too much praise out of fear of appearing weak, but get this – research conducted by Chester Elton, Author of Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results, found that while 37 percent of people say that they work harder if they fear losing their job and 38 percent say they work harder when their boss is demanding, a whopping 81 percent of people work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. Clearly showing gratitude for the contributions of your team isn’t just good for your well-being – it’s good for business!

How can you instill gratitude in the culture of your workplace? It all starts with YOU! Research shows that a recipient of thankfulness will be more generous and helpful to others, so by expressing your gratitude, you create a ripple of acknowledgement and appreciation that permeates the organization. Here are some steps you can take to unleash the power of gratitude in your organization:

1. Implement a Personal Daily Gratitude Practice

How often do you intentionally take time to think about what you’re grateful for? If you’re like most people, the answer is not enough. Our brains are naturally wired to look for perceived threats and obstacles and in times of crisis, we don’t have to look hard to find them. When you express appreciation and thankfulness, your brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which foster optimism, camaraderie, willpower and a whole host of other positive emotions that combat stress. The key to maximizing the benefits of gratitude is repetition. By consciously making gratitude a daily habit, you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain responsible for all of these positive outcomes and with time, you prime your brain to see opportunities instead of obstacles. A few daily practices that you can try include:

  • Each morning, grab a pen and piece of paper and write down 3 things that you’re grateful for. Try to go beyond the general (albeit significant) things that we all default to like “my family” or “my health” and be specific: “the kind stranger who held the door for me when I had my hands full” or “the changing leaves and crisp fall air on my morning walk”.
  • Make a list of all of the people in your life who you are grateful for and why. Then, plan to take a few minutes each day to reach out to at least one of the individuals on the list and express your sincere appreciation.
  • Start your morning with a gratitude meditation like this one led by Deepak Chopra that will allow you to feel appreciation and bring awareness to all that you’re thankful for in life.

Gratitude is contagious, so when you begin by cultivating an attitude of gratitude within yourself, you influence others to adopt a similar outlook.

2. Acknowledge Small Wins

Recognition is frequently given for major business accomplishments like breaking sales records or closing deals, but the smaller behind-the-scenes contributions that enable the organization to succeed often go unacknowledged. When you reward small wins, employees know that you’re paying attention and that their contributions are valued. When a person feels appreciated for their work they subconsciously mirror it through their actions and efforts which means productivity and efficiency rise.

3. Be Genuine and Specific

When thanking others, avoid generic blanket expressions and instead acknowledge the individual’s specific contribution. Research shows that gratitude strengthens relationships much more when it is conveyed as appreciation for what the other person did or who they are, rather than how it benefited you personally. For example, begin by saying “You went out of your way to…”, “You’re really good at…”, or “It shows how _____ you are that…”.

4. Tailor Your Thanks to the Individual

Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all strategy, your expression of appreciation should be thoughtful and unique for each person. Take the time to figure out how those you work with prefer to be acknowledged. For example, some people may prefer public acknowledgement while others may value dedicated one-on-one time, monetary rewards or gifts, or increased opportunities or resources.

5. Be Consistent

The power of gratitude lies in consistency and sincerity so don’t save your praise for formal events or end-of-the-year reviews. When practiced regularly, the effects are much more profound and influential to the culture of the organization. If you’re not in the habit of expressing gratitude in your workplace, keep yourself accountable by setting a measurable “gratitude” goal such as finding one opportunity per day to express your genuine appreciation for someone in your workplace.

6. Create Avenues for Gratitude

Take things one step further by making it easy for those in your organization to pay it forward. There are several ways you can approach this including:

  • Creating a public forum such as a dedicated Slack channel where employees can publicly share their appreciation for co-workers and call out their contributions.
  • Making it a standard practice to carve out time during meetings for employees to write down or share something work or project-related that they’re grateful for.
  • Sharing when your team or organization receives positive feedback. Some departments that are critical to the success of the organization may never hear how their work is impacting people’s lives. Hearing positive feedback can help employees find a sense of meaning in their work and feel like they are contributing to something larger than themselves.

The pandemic — and the disruption that comes with it — isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As a leader, you have the opportunity to infuse the culture of your workplace with gratitude, allowing your organization to more effectively recover from setbacks, reframe challenges as opportunities and maintain a positive outlook at a time where it’s sorely needed.

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