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Gratitude: A Hallmark of Great Leaders
When electricity powers a machine or device, current flows from the electrical panel to the device, and then a neutral wire creates a return path for unused current. It is the ground wire, the additional path that allows electrical current to return safely to the ground, that prevents danger in the event of a short circuit. The ground wire ensures that a short circuit will flip a circuit breaker rather than ruining the device it powers or causing a fire.
Think of gratitude as your personal “ground wire” that keeps the energy flowing in the right direction.
Gratitude can be imagined as our own ground wire, helping us to return safely to the ground in a metaphorical sense when otherwise we might blow a fuse. If we ensure gratitude is part of all of our interactions, we can be confident that we are grounded, and are less likely to experience a catastrophe of our own making. In my leadership coaching services, I emphasize the importance of gratitude, because it builds resilience and, in its own way, fuels success.
Resilience Depends on Gratitude
Psychological research has shown that gratitude has an important role in emotional regulation, which is a key factor in a person’s resilience, the ability to bounce back from difficulty. Furthermore, a sense of gratefulness improves optimism and orientation toward goals. Both resilience and goal-orientation are characteristics of successful leaders. Gratitude isn’t difficult to practice, and thanking your team members, the building receptionist, your cab driver, and others you encounter on a daily basis benefits the recipient of your gratefulness and leaves a positive impression.
The Amazing Power of Gratefulness
Gratefulness benefits both the person expressing gratitude and the person on the receiving end. One study from Northeastern University’s Department of Psychology found that gratitude encourages helping behavior, makes people likelier to assist strangers, and can build stronger relationships. Those are impressive accomplishments for an act that many of us don’t bother with often enough.
In 2001, psychological researchers concluded that gratitude is a moral affect and that when people express gratitude, they reiterate to themselves what moral behavior is and practice demonstrating it.
Gratitude as a Component of Success
Think about a time you escaped a potentially bad situation. Maybe you applied your car’s brakes just in time to avoid a crash. When these situations occur, we experience a rush of adrenaline and an immediate sense of how fortunate we are simply for being alive.
It shouldn’t take a near miss to remind you of the value in everyday life.
Appreciating ordinary life helps you recognize that the “extras” in life, like wealth and possessions, are just that: extras. When you regularly recognize this, you tend to pay attention to what is most important. For example, the fact that your engineer got the design drawings to you with time to spare before the project deadline is far more important than the fact that someone beat you to a good parking space when you arrived at work this morning.
How to Flex Your Gratitude Muscles
Gratitude is like any other skill in that you get better at it the more you practice it. Try it. It’s okay to start small with words like this:
- “Thanks so much for holding the elevator door. I really didn’t want to take the stairs.”
- “You made a new pot of coffee? Suddenly my day is better. Thank you.”
- “Thank you for reminding me of the fundraiser deadline. I was worried I would forget.”
Gratitude is more than just a social construct that helps smooth interactions with others. It is also a self-reminder that we have much to be grateful for, particularly for the basics in life that we may take for granted. Don’t save your attitude of gratefulness for one season of the year; practice it regularly, on good days and on bad days.
When I work with my leadership coaching clients, I emphasize that their strengths are important, but they don’t make big accomplishments in a metaphorical vacuum. Nobody wants to feel invisible, and when you take a grateful foundational approach to life at work and elsewhere, you ground yourself and your interactions and let others know that they matter.
All leaders benefit from recognizing that they didn’t make it to where they are without help from others to go along with their hard work, and all leaders benefit from articulating it regularly, both in the workplace and outside it. Whether you’re “officially” labeled as a leader or not, developing positive leadership skills, including gratitude, adds measurable value to your life.