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Gratitude is a leadership tool

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Leaders look for effective problem-solving tools and are surprised sometimes to find that being grateful is one of them.

When we make ourselves remember what we are grateful for in the midst of a frustrating problem, we are usually able to resolve it better and faster.

Research show good emotions (even when slightly manufactured) boost creative thinking and expression.

Practicing gratitude is classic psychology work that most anyone can tell you, yet it’s not too redundant to repeat. This is a real tool to apply in your life for the betterment of yourself, your teams, and your organization.

But feeling better is not easy for many people. For this reason cultivating gratitude at work fosters a positive organizational culture - one that employees want to get up and go to work for everyday.

Selfishly speaking, applying gratitude as a tool can invigorate your step, lift your spirit, and boost your energy and resilience. Try it, it works.

But for those people who are powered by pessimism, this might be counterintuitive. And there are a lot of scientists and engineers whose job is to – literally - think critically, and this can leak a bit too far into the personality sometimes.

It can be difficult to feel grateful in the midst of many complex problems you have, complaints you hear, enemies you fear, or worries and doubts you may have. It can be very difficult to feel grateful if you feel neglected, dismissed, minimized, or undervalued.

However, even under those conditions, no matter what is going on outside of you, if you can make yourself feel grateful for what is good there now (come on, things can be worse) then you will use gratefulness as an actual skill that prepares you for a better future.

Research shows people who have frequent feelings of gratefulness are generally happier mood wise, and suffer less from stress. Spending intentional time making yourself think about what you are grateful for (i.e., writing it down, repeating it out loud, thinking about it over and over), activates deep soul renewal that can improve your whole life.

This might sound really silly, but you can try it without anyone even knowing you are doing it, so why not? Next time you walk away from your desk, start to repeat ‘Thank you to’, or ‘I’m grateful for’ something or someone.

Even better, go a step further in the idea and take one of your most frustrating business problems and begin to repeat in your mind that you are actually grateful for this problem. You are already grateful and confident that an answer and solution for this problem is available, and you are already thankful ahead of time. Some might think that gratitude works AFTER the event, but really gratitude also can work even before it.

Sounds weird, but before you even have a solution, become as grateful as you can for the problem. Grateful thinking and feeling can open your mind to find a resolution faster.

You might say, “Yes, but I am a perfectionist!”, or “I work for one!” Many executives who are perfectionist learn about this tool the hard way. Gratitude is especially important for them because they are always aware of what is missing and not perfect. A perfectionist has very high standards and often gets upset with problems that do not have ideal resolutions. But, there are many problems that are not even worth the hassle of achieving an ideal solution, so this creates extra stress for no good reason. This is usually a blind spot too in some way.

A good exercise for a perfectionist is to make a list of all the perfect problems within a given problem. “Oh, this is a perfect problem to have!” they might say with glee.

Why? Because, when a team who reports to a perfectionist hears that, they are less inclined to fear bringing the bad news, unresolved problems, or even differences of opinion. As a leader, you need to solicit these valuable behaviors from your team. You need your team to express freely whenever possible to store up and optimize creative energy.

Beware though that it does not go over very well to say to someone, “Well, you should be grateful.” This is a self-decision, done internally. Reprimanding people for lack of gratefulness doesn’t solicit a connection or more gratitude between you and them.

Practicing gratefulness reduces stress and worry, and helps generate problem solving. It can lift you from non-conscious negative ruminating – like stuff you can’t even hear yourself saying. Purposefully generate a choice to be grateful this year if you can because we may need it now more than ever.

Remember, a top characteristic of good relationships is the space of gratefulness. So, if your boss or spouse does something really irritating, remind yourself, “I am grateful for this person.”

Sounds like being inauthentic, but it is still one of the best ways to connect to your deeper self and others, think and feel better, keep perspective, and improve outcomes. It will also prepare for a deeper more meaningful conversation that wants to happen.

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