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Gratitude Is Your Most Powerful Leadership Skill. Here’s How To Foster It

“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.” –Steve Maraboli

Gratitude –though often underestimated– is a powerful leadership skill that can transform your entire organization.

Think about it –have you ever worked for a manager who just never seemed to appreciate your work, regardless of your efforts? It is demoralizing and makes you disengaged and detached from your company. On the contrary, feeling valued and appreciated is not only a basic human need, but it makes employees more satisfied, productive, and committed to their job.

In general, most leaders do genuinely appreciate their people and express gratitude but, if that is the case, why do many employees still feel undervalued? Ineffective communication and poor gratitude practices might be undermining your efforts to appreciate your peeps. This Thanksgiving can be a small excuse to learn about the power of gratitude and implement robust practices that will transform your organization.

What is gratitude, truly?

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation. It is the quality of being thankful for other people’s kindness, help, efforts, or favors –or your own! Gratitude is about acknowledging the contributions that other people make every day.

What makes gratitude so good?

Far from a fluffy, cheesy concept, gratitude has a real impact on physical and psychological health, our relationship with others, sleep quality, and self-esteem, among many other benefits. In a world of tight deadlines, calls, and meetings,  Gratitude may be the cheapest investment you can make with the highest dividends.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of its neurological effects, it has been established that living a grateful life leads to benefits for both mental and physical health, as well as interpersonal relationships. In other words, gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. One of the neurochemicals associated with the parts of the brain affected by gratitude is dopamine, a pleasure hormone.

In the book Leading with Gratitude, the authors emphasize the positive impact of gratitude on employee performance, “Workers want and need to know their work is appreciated. Showing gratitude to employees is the easiest, fastest, most inexpensive way to boost performance.”

Employee motivation and engagement is also clearly linked to showing appreciation to your people, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. “Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged.” In this other study, it is discussed that signs of gratitude such as gifts can relieve the recipient of a stressor. In other words, it makes your employees more resilient to stress. To summarize the benefits of gratitude:

  • More motivated employees
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Better teamwork
  • Happier workforce
  • Higher sense of self-efficacy
  • Increased performance
  • Healthier workforce
  • Increased resilience to stress
  • Reduced anxiety and fear

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What can you do as a leader to foster gratitude?

If gratitude is that good, why is it undervalued and underused at work? Negative praise can be hard, but shouldn’t positive feedback be easy and part of our everyday lives? In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of over 7,600 managers, 37% admitted they don’t give positive reinforcement to employees. Taking the time to provide positive feedback and appreciate others seems optional, while it shouldn’t be.

The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland asked over 2,000 people in the United States about their own feelings about gratitude, and only one percent selected “I think that gratitude is unnecessary.” Positive feedback shapes our relationships even more so than does negative feedback. Don’t refrain from being grateful!

If you look up gratitude practices, you will probably find a plethora of articles recommending “writing down things you feel grateful for” and then trying to feel deeply into the emotions associated with your list. While this gratitude practice can help, it is not as effective as many think. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman also argues that “just saying thanks is not the most effective way” to reap the benefits of gratitude. It turns out, gratitude is the most powerful not when you give it, but when you receive it. The good news? You, as a manager, are in the perfect position to give and spread gratitude across your organization. Here are some actionable ideas for you to do so effectively.

  • Be genuine and enthusiastic. It’s the genuine thanks that counts. Regardless of the size of the gift, receiving genuine gratitude is what matters most. Show enthusiasm and truly mean it. Be mindful of cultural differences when expressing gratitude – notice how some cultures are more expressive (e.g. United States) than others (e.g. Russia). If you are unsure about which style you should adopt, always err on the overly enthusiastic side. If you naturally express gratitude in an energetic way, keep it up. If you learned to be moderate or rational, consider turning it up a notch (e.g. turn “thank you” into “you made my day!”). In any case, you should aim for quality, not quantity (don’t force it).
  • Start at the top. To establish gratitude in your company culture, those with power need to set an example. Managers have to express gratitude first in a clear, consistent, and genuine way, both in public and private.
  • Ask people how they like to be recognized. Asking employees “How do you wish to be thanked?” will help you adapt your “thank you” wishes to each individual. You will find out that, often, the expected reward system is more than just money.
  • Don’t wait for annual performance reviews. If a team member goes above and beyond, express gratitude right away. Say thank you verbally, via text, or on Slack. Taking two minutes at the beginning of a meeting can help liven up the mood and make the meeting more productive and collaborative.
  • Look for opportunities to celebrate success. Look out for small successes that will make employees feel special, from celebrating an employee’s tenure, extra effort, selfless help, hitting a milestone, or overcoming a major hurdle.
  • Thank the people who rarely get thanked. Every organization has the rock stars who always steal the limelight and those who do thankless work behind the scenes. Make even small contributions visible and show public gratitude in a consistent way to show that your culture is not just theoretical, but also experienced and developed.
  • Make it public. Do a colleague shoutout in a company-wide channel, recognize a project partner during a meeting for going the extra mile, or post it on social media. These public displays of gratitude will have a much greater impact than a direct message or a text.
  • Get specific. Another way to make your “thank you” more powerful is to be specific on why you feel grateful. When you express gratitude, just add the word “for” and tell them exactly what makes them special or what they did right. Remember that the thank-you target should always be the person and their actions, not the situation.
  • Reinforce peer-to-peer recognition and acts of kindness. Kindness is contagious. Get creative to encourage team members to express gratitude –provide printouts so employees can easily give handwritten thank-you notes to each other, have a piggy bank at the office and add one dollar every time someone expresses genuine gratitude (you can buy something nice for the office or organize a happy hour with the money collected), start a gratitude challenge, set up a gratitude platform or Slack channel (or #brag-board)… The options are endless.
  • Offer education about the benefits of gratitude. Send out blog posts, articles, and research studies on the benefits of gratitude. Employees will be more inclined to practice gratitude once they understand its benefits.
  • Offer occasional spontaneous gifts. Oftentimes, small gestures mean much more than shiny gifts. If a team member deserves it, offer them spontaneous gifts in the form of extra time off, a giftcard to spend in a wellness center, a LinkedIn recommendation, a lunch date… We all have different languages of appreciation, so don’t assume that everyone likes to receive a card, public praise, or have a coffee delivered. Find out what they truly enjoy and tailor the gift to their preferences.
  • Leverage the power of storytelling. As we mentioned before, research indicates that receiving gratitude is more powerful than giving gratitude, but did you know that you can create a sense of receiving gratitude for yourself? The tool you need is storytelling. You only need from 1 to 5 minutes 3 times a day. Find someone’s narrative that inspires you where someone exchanges gratitude. Imagining the emotional experience of somebody else receiving help and feeling grateful will increase a sense of resonance and affiliation and will help you evoke gratitude. (Huberman explains it better on his podcast.)
  • Vary your vocabulary. Saying “thank you” is a wonderful practice we should all do more often, and varying your wording will help you show appreciation to someone for several things while still sounding natural. Check out the section below for different ways to say “thank you”.

Gratitude Quotes

“Being grateful does not mean that everything is necessarily good. It just means that you can accept it as a gift.” ― Roy T. Bennett

“Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions. Once expressed, it changes attitude, brightens outlook, and broadens our perspective.” ― Germany Kent

“Ungrateful people forget what they are not grateful for.” ― Ana Monnar, Express Yourself 101 Kaleidoscope Volume 3

“Express gratitude for the greatness of small things.” ― Richie Norton

“Gratitude always comes into play; research shows that people are happier if they are grateful for the positive things in their lives, rather than worrying about what might be missing.”
― Dan Buettner, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way

“In every class of society, gratitude is the rarest of all human virtues.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice

Phrases to express gratitude

  • Thank you so much.
  • Thank you very much.
  • Thank you for your guidance / support / thoughtfulness / time.
  • I appreciate your assistance / consideration / encouragement.
  • I sincerely appreciate ….
  • Many thanks for giving me this opportunity.
  • Thanks very much for the assistance you provided. It is sincerely appreciated.
  • I am grateful for your support.
  • I appreciate you.
  • I appreciate your taking the time.
  • I value the insights and guidance you provide.
  • I wanted to thank you for all your help.
  • I truly appreciate the confidence you showed in me.
  • I very much appreciate your help.
  • It was very thoughtful of you.
  • Thank you for everything you do.
  • You are always so helpful.
  • You are the best.
  • You made my day! Seriously, thank you.
  • You have been most helpful.
  • I sincerely appreciate the assistance.
  • Many thanks for your assistance.
  • Many thanks for your time.


Being grateful does not always equal expressing it correctly. Learn to communicate and adapt your messaging to different audiences, in different situations. If you are ready to enhance your communication skills for the workplace or help any of your colleagues, get in touch with Talaera. We will create a business communication program tailored to your needs and interests.

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  1. Great topic! I love your content. I hope this will be read by everyone because many bosses nowadays don’t care for their employees. Great post!

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  5. so true I’ve been writing multi-threaded multi-core (there is a difference) programs since the 80’s, and I’m still surprised today at the percentage of programmers that don’t design it in from the ground up I think it’s partly a conceptualization problem, they just don’t really understand how to use parallel processesIt’s also not taught well at uni, or most workplaces

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