How To Better Your Life & Leadership

With Thanksgiving in just a couple of days, it makes sense that gratitude is top of mind for many of us, but what is gratitude and how do we practice it in a meaningful way?

Though praise and compliments are nice, really, that is all they are – nice. I don’t say this to dismiss the “Good Job!” you may have given your direct report the other day or the admiration you received because you knocked the last presentation you gave out of the park. Rather, I invite you to see the difference between authentic gratitude and praise, compliments, or the common workplace exercises of asking colleagues to share kudos for a team member in an email or the morning meeting.

When we are authentically grateful, we are genuinely moved by the value someone or something has added to our lives. Authentic gratitude is expressed from the heart and when we really stop to think about what someone did for us or how something has brought joy into our existence, we are left with a sense of awe.

As you consider the difference between kudos and gratitude, imagine how each makes you feel when you receive it as well as when you give it. For example, think about the last time you gave or received a compliment. How long did the good feeling from it last? Did the kudos make a difference in your thoughts or actions or the thoughts and actions of the person you gave the compliment to? Likely the answer is “no” because as nice as it is to hear someone say something nice about you – and don’t get me wrong, that kindness is needed as well – it lands differently than when someone shares with you exactly how you added value to their life. When we are authentically grateful, we are specific, honoring the actions, contributions, or sacrifices someone made to help us.

Now that we know what makes being authentically grateful so powerful, you may be asking how you go about practicing it in your leadership. This is a great question and an essential element of effective leadership because to practice authentic gratitude, we must develop our self-awareness and levels of emotional intelligence. 

And how do we do that? Here are three things you might do today to become more self-aware, increase your levels of emotional intelligence, and express authentic gratitude.

Take Note

In order to identify how someone is adding value to our life or the team, we must open our eyes and notice their contributions. This includes what strengths they bring, how they pushed themselves outside their comfort zone for a greater purpose, and where their actions made the difference between the team or company being successful.

For example, consider the team who stayed late at the office because of a pressing deadline. They knew it was important to the success of the organization, and they sacrificed their evening for the sake of the company. Considering everything that is on everyone’s plates these days, those sacrifices bring about a sense of awe and are worth noticing and expressions of gratitude.

Challenge yourself to engage in a daily practice of noticing someone or something you are grateful for and why. Then, share your thoughts with that person, your team, or even in a gratitude journal. If you feel that a particular gratitude you want to express is better left private, that is okay. I, for one, am a big believer in having a private space for some of the things I notice that I am grateful for. The idea here is to cultivate a habit of noticing how and when a difference has been made in your life.

Step Outside Yourself

One of the things about noticing what you are grateful for is that it requires that you step outside yourself. Ego has no place in a state of authentic gratitude, as it is an expression of thanks for something or someone outside yourself that positively impacted you.

When we are authentically grateful, we accept and welcome the fact that to achieve our goals, we must look to the strengths, talents, and offerings of others. The expression of authentic gratitude gives us a way in which to lift others up, recognize their value, and potentially open their eyes to the gifts they have that they may not have been aware of. As leaders, we have the power to influence how our direct reports see themselves. Being authentically grateful for something they have done to add value to the team or the company can be a real confidence booster while also acknowledging their purpose.

When a leader is able to notice and thank those that add to their leadership, they can build a greater, more meaningful connection with their direct reports because the direct reports feel valued, honored, and genuinely appreciated.

How might you step outside yourself this week to express authentic gratitude for your team or an individual on your team?

Lead by Example

As we continue to notice more, appreciate more, and express authentic gratitude, we begin to create a culture of gratitude amongst our team. I always share the insightful words of my friend, Bob Anderson, founder of Leadership Circle, “Leaders bring the weather.” This means that you lead the way. You influence how your team sees or feels something. If you want your team to express an attitude of authentic gratitude, it starts with you showing what that looks like.

Expressing authentic gratitude does not have to be a grand event. In fact, I love to write handwritten notes from time to time to share with someone how they have made a positive difference in my life. A simple thank you can go a long way. The point is to do it. To show your team that being grateful is encouraged and can make a significant difference to the giver, receiver, and company culture.

What is one thing you can do this week to lead by example and express authentic gratitude?

One Final Thought

The last thing that I will share about expressing authentic gratitude is that as much as it might change the life of the person receiving the gratitude, it is the giver of the gratitude that gets the greatest benefit. This was something that I learned from a study I came across about gratitude that has truly changed my own practice. I invite you to check it out here.

I came across the study before having a gratitude journal or practice, and I share from experience that what the researchers found out about expressing gratitude was spot on. Since then, most mornings, I start my day thinking about three things or people I am grateful for and why. There is discipline in my approach, as I do it daily and make sure always to write three gratitudes. There are times when I really have to invest some deep thought. However, this practice goes back to why being authentically grateful differs from saying something nice. It is about increasing your self-awareness, investing in deep thought or reflection, and actively noticing. It is about discovering and being in awe.

This gratitude practice has changed my life, leadership, and approach to each day I am given. It is true that as the giver, I have benefitted, and I guarantee that if you begin your own practice of expressing authentic gratitude, whether in a journal, outwardly, or both, it will change your life and leadership as well.

Looking for more ways in which you can become a more effective leader? We help leaders of Fortune 500 companies and national organizations better understand the actions they can take that work best for themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Contact us to learn more about our executive coaching opportunities and Leadership Evolution Program at [email protected]. We will talk soon.