Gratitude: The Essential Leadership Skill You Might Be Missing

It’s that time of year. Everyone is talking about gratitude.

Gratitude is more than just a great mindfulness practice or mood enhancer. It’s an essential leadership skill. Gratitude can go a long way in creating and maintaining a work culture that results in higher engagement, lower turnover rates and higher productivity. 

Here are four reasons why you should prioritize gratitude in your leadership.

Gratitude reinforces a positive culture.

There are countless opportunities throughout the day to influence your team with words. When you express gratitude for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, you are weaving together the fabric of your organizational culture. Maintaining a culture of gratitude goes beyond just the leader. Incorporate ways for team members to share gratitude for each other. Ask your team how they want to connect and express gratitude to each other. Let them get creative. 

Creating a culture of gratitude can also impact how your team responds to mistakes. Rather than shaming others for mistakes, the organization as a whole can express gratitude for the opportunity that mistake provides. Think about the energy created when a team member makes a mistake, acknowledges it, says, “Let’s try again,” and the organization supports them through all of it. Imagine the energy created when a leader acknowledges their mistakes and learns to do better. A humble mindset is a real equalizer and makes you a more accessible, approachable, and relatable leader.

When you design an organization that sees itself as a grand experiment, you also build a flywheel of learning. It’s a circular process during which mistakes create momentum for learning and growth, reinforcing a positive and psychologically safe work culture. 

Gratitude impacts resilience.

When you and your team can express gratitude not only for what goes well but also for what doesn’t go well, you improve resilience. All organizations must experiment with trial and error to figure out what works. A misstep, a weak process, or errors in the system are all opportunities for learning and improvement. Recognizing those opportunities and finding new solutions are moments to be grateful for. 

A  growth-oriented culture understands the gift in making mistakes. They learn from errors instead of abandoning sound ideas or becoming stagnant out of fear of mistakes. After all, failure is not making a mistake; failure is when there is no learning after the mistake. As the saying goes, you either win or you learn. This mindset shift can help you and your team cultivate gratitude for mistakes because of the lessons they provide.

Gratitude improves individual and team performance.

Some of the common challenges I hear are that work isn’t being done correctly, mistakes are rampant, patients or customers are frustrated, the staff calls out with alarming frequency, turnover is high, and leaders feel like they’re putting out fires all day. Even if you aren’t experiencing a walkout, you may be experiencing a slowdown.

A recent Gallup study revealed that actively disengaged employees cost organizations $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary.  In any given organization, roughly 16% of employees are actively disengaged. Conversely, highly engaged teams are 21% more productive and have 41% less absenteeism. 

If you want to improve your team’s engagement, and therefore its productivity, gratitude can go a long way. Make sure, however, that you are specific in your appreciation. While a generic “Thank you” is a step in the right direction, the more specific you are about why you’re thanking someone, the more likely they are to repeat the positive behavior. Expressing gratitude in a meaningful way is just a small part of a leader’s toolkit for improving productivity and performance.

Gratitude increases loyalty.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 64% of Americans leave their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated. Gallup reports that roughly 70 percent of people in the United States say they don’t receive praise or recognition in the workplace. These numbers should be staggering to you. Such a simple thing as gratitude can make a significant difference in your turnover rates and engagement. 

The answer is simple if you want to respond to The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. Be grateful. No matter what challenges you and your team face, look for the silver lining. Leaders who have a grateful mind know the importance of sharing gratitude with others. Take the time to thank the people who help your business function every day. Look for the good things your team is doing and acknowledge them. It doesn’t need to be a big sweeping accomplishment; everyday behaviors and attitudes deserve thanks too. Find ways to celebrate large and small events. When you seek things to be grateful for, you’ll notice opportunities for gratitude everywhere, as will your team. 


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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.