As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy
Yes, I sometimes want to run when I see yet another article about gratitude during the month of November, but gratitude is a serious business and leaders with that knowledge experience greater success.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Eric Mosley wrote:
Appreciation increases employee happiness and satisfaction. Findings from the new survey show a direct correlation between appreciation and happiness. 86 percent of employees say they feel happier and prouder at work as a result of being recognized, while 85 percent say recognition made them feel more satisfied with their jobs. Additionally, 70 percent of employees say recognition made them feel happier at home. While employee happiness can often be overshadowed by a focus on bottom line gains, senior leaders who put a greater emphasis on happiness as a key company metric will see a direct correlation to profitability.
In my writing about emotional intelligence in leadership I often take a gratitude mindset for granted. Of course a keen ability to show appreciation is fundamental for self-aware leaders, right? Wrong. It is a practice and it is never done because it needs cultivation and intention to be felt by others.
Three aspects of gratitude as it relates to enhanced emotional intelligence
In the age of likes, follows, hearts, texts and direct messages, it is easy to feel like we are acknowledging the work of others without really doing much. The truth is, those actions have little impact because they take very little intention. Gratitude requires time to reflect on the contributions of others and then to deliver the message in a meaningful way.
Practice now: Pay attention to all the good things that are in your experience now. Gratitude is inherently relational so when you start to share it in meaningful ways, you will experience more if it. The key is we have to feel it first and it has to come from an authentic place before we can share it in a way that is meaningful. Lip service is easily detectable and undermines leadership potential.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the concept of praising others versus self-benefiting was explored:
“Recent research suggests that people often make a critical mistake when expressing gratitude: They focus on how they feel — how happy they are, how they have benefited from the help — rather than focusing on the benefactor. Researchers at the University of North Carolina distinguished between two types of gratitude expressions: other-praising, which acknowledges and validates the actions of the giver, and self-benefit, which describes how the receiver is better off for having been helped.”
The basic finding was that other-praising gratitude was strongly related to perceptions of feeling appreciated and valued but self-benefit gratitude was not equal when the same behavior was being acknowledged. This is important because how we phrase our appreciation of others impacts how deeply our gratitude is received.
Practice now: Think of one thing you would like to thank someone for contributing to your experience. Write down what you would say to them and read it over. Is your expression of thanks centered around how they helped you or what you observed about their capacity? For example, does your sentence start with phrases like It made me happy, It made things so much easier for me, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me, etc. If so, try rewriting your thoughts, focusing instead on other-praising You demonstrated, You showed, You stepped-up when, etc. It is worth noting how gracious we are in our giving of gratitude.
Listening is a powerful form of gratitude. Many of the people we lead want to be heard and our ability to listen openly to feedback is very powerful and often overlooked. It may sound simple, but only leaders that are truly self-aware and comfortable in their own skin, can listen to others without judgement.
Practice now: Write this down on a sticky note and put it somewhere where you will be reminded of it all day: “Listening is the most powerful form of acknowledgement. When I listen to others, they know they are important to me.” This is a simple reminder with profound impact.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence defines gratitude as:
A state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures. Though some people and things are clear blessings, this state of mind doesn’t actually depend on your life circumstances. Gratitude is not just a feeling outside your control that arrives willy-nilly. It’s more like a radio channel: you can choose at any time to tune in.
Gratitude acknowledges connection, and perhaps for this reason it is central to spiritual traditions worldwide, including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and East Asian religions. When we contemplate our place in the intricate, interdependent network of life, we feel wonder and joy. That realization can lead us to express thanksgiving.
When leaders have the courage to step into the practice of gratitude, they will be on the receiving end of infinite gifts. Gratitude is not an expression, it is a feeling that enables humans to remember, even in the face of uncertainty and suffering, that goodness exists and from that place, to give thanks.