Leadership Competencies

3 reasons why gratitude in leadership is essential to success

gratitude in leadership

In business, a simple “thank you” can make amazing things happen. Productivity goes up. Sales increase. Retention improves, and so does recruitment of top talent.

“I bet you can already feel your energy raised just thinking about gratitude,” said Bea Wray, Vistage speaker, author and innovation expert.

Wray is a strong advocate of the thank-you note and buys thank-you cards by the hundreds. When she ran a nonprofit served by more than 80 companies, Wray encouraged beneficiaries to write personal thank-you notes to the donor organizations’ executives.

“The donors loved hearing from the people they were actually serving,” Wray said. “It’s such a powerful way to connect.”

It is also a powerful way to run a business. Here are 3 reasons why gratitude in leadership is important.


1. It builds a more dedicated team

“It is important for anyone to, first of all, experience gratitude, and it’s important to show gratitude because it might be contagious,” said Vistage Chair and speaker Artie Isaac, who credits Srikumar Rao for the insight he gained into the importance of thankfulness.

“People are leaving jobs in record numbers because they don’t feel appreciated,” Isaac said. “Leaders think they’ve built great loyalty, and suddenly they look around and everyone is leaving. They’re finding out, ‘We didn’t build such a great team after all.’”

Research into the Great Resignation is uncovering the power of gratitude to reverse the tide. According to Massachusetts-based talent management company Workhuman, “With just five moments of recognition per year (that’s less than one “thank you” every two months), voluntary turnover is reduced by 22%.”

While a 2013 study found that only 10% of people express gratitude to a colleague every day, experts predict that between the pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning, companies will be more motivated than ever to cultivate a culture of gratitude.

“American businesses are learning, some under duress, that we don’t understand everyone else’s life experience,” Isaac says. “Part of gratitude is recognizing that others have sacrificed a lot, investing more than their time in others’ dreams.”

2. It keeps workers focused on what matters

Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has conducted extensive research about why we should give thanks for thankfulness in the workplace. Emmons discovered that people who feel grateful are more likely to focus on personal and organizational growth and less likely to spend time engaged in “destructive impulses,” such as “envy, resentment, greed and bitterness.”

Gratitude can also help a company weather a bad storm, said Becca Apfelstadt, Vistage member and co-founder and CEO of creative agency treetree, which was hard-hit in the recession of 2009.

“We had to find every opportunity we could to be grateful for the things that we had, the relationships we were building and the successes that were underfoot,” says Apfelstadt, who began having employees write handwritten thank-you notes and incorporating gratitude into their workdays. “That’s when gratitude became a core value of our company.”

Within 10 years, treetree grossed $4.17 million, landed on the Inc. 5000 list and refined its successful business model.

“Now, we look for people who naturally tend to see the bright side of situations and those who celebrate even the smallest moments,” she said. “Our group truly believes this is a better and more fulfilling way to live life both personally and professionally.”

3. It improves productivity

That fulfillment translates to a happier and more productive workforce — a lot more. In one experiment, employees who solicit university alumni for scholarship donations met grateful students who directly benefited from those dollars. One month later, those employees brought in 171% more money for the school. Gratitude proved overwhelmingly motivating.

Another reason that we are more productive when steeped in gratitude is that we are better rested. In one study, people who kept a “gratitude journal,” slept on average 30 minutes more per night and woke up feeling more refreshed and alert than those who did not.

To truly turn gratitude into a competitive advantage, it has to be an embedded part of a company’s culture. And that starts from the top — something that Vistage members seem to understand almost instinctively.

“Vistage breeds gratitude,” Isaac said. “Members are genuinely grateful for the attention of their peers.”

Research bears this out. Employees with strong morale are more likely to go above and beyond in their roles. In turn, those workers help create a more positive, thankful environment. Gratitude begets gratitude.

And it all starts with a simple, “Thank you.”

A Few Thank-You Notes:
To develop an attitude of gratitude, consider:

  • Encouraging handwritten thank-you notes. Keep blank cards and stamps stocked and available, and encourage your team to set aside time to write out their thanks.
  • Codifying gratitude through a standing item on your meeting agendas or through messaging channels dedicated to shout-outs.
  • Doling out meaningful prizes and perks. Reward individual successes and provide company-wide well-being perks to communicate how much each member is valued.

Gratitude in leadership related resources

Employee Appreciation Ideas: How CEOs show gratitude to their staff

Category: Leadership Competencies

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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