How To Be a Leader With A Grateful Heart

When was the last time you saw the word “gratitude” in your company’s leadership development curriculum?

I know. I haven’t seen it in any either.

But having a leader who can lead with a grateful heart would be a phenomenal leadership trait for rallying recognition around.

Leadership consultants Kevin and Jackie Freiberg say, “Gratitude is a sign of wisdom and maturity, a hallmark of confident humility.”

Too often we are trying to develop leadership skills and forget about the underlying leadership traits that intrinsically drive a person to be a leader no matter what their role or whether they even have a title within the organization.

Let’s explore what it really takes to be a leader who has a grateful heart.

What Is A Grateful Heart?

Being a leader is not easy.

A lot is expected of you in rallying groups of people together for the common cause of the organization and producing some kind of service or product leading to a successful measurable result. These are all very strategic and tactical outcomes.

What’s inside the mind and heart of a leader is rarely examined, discussed or developed.

A grateful heart is an inner perspective and approach to life that looks positively at the world as a whole and allows the individual to better appreciate people, their work, and all aspects of life in general.

Perspective Taking

Stopping to develop gratitude in our minds and hearts is a mindfulness exercise that we’re not always accustomed to doing. I’ll never say having gratitude is an easy thing to develop.

Sociologist Georg Simmel calls gratitude “the moral memory of mankind.”

It’s easy to lose our memory of the positive effects of being grateful. Positive emotions are so easily displaced by negative ones.

To assist you with developing gratitude I will refer to Berkeley professor, Dr. Robert Emmons, who is a researcher and leading expert in gratitude studies and practices.

Gratitude Practices for Leaders

1. Gratitude Journaling: By far the most valuable and repeatedly recommended practice for developing gratitude, and maintaining a memory of it, is to keep a written gratitude journal. Emmons suggests listing a minimum of five things for which you’re grateful for every week. The more the merrier!

Even journaling as a general habit will assist you with creating memories along with associated feelings of gratitude. These days there are even online journal platforms like Penzu you could use.

Emmons research demonstrates those who work on developing gratitude have overall greater well-being and higher ability to accomplish their goals.

Imagine reflecting on what you are grateful for with the different people who report to you. You’ll likely see far more than the deliverables you see in your inbox or on your desk.

2. Start Your Day: Shawn Achor, Harvard lecturer on happiness, suggests starting each day with thinking about who and what you are grateful for before you even start your regular work.

Before you open up your email inbox, he recommends crafting and then sending out a gratitude email to a colleague expressing what you are grateful to them for.

I recently told a colleague who sends out a regular report for a weekly team meeting how I realized I never thanked them for this routine task. They were grateful that I thanked them and they took the time to email me back.

Starting your day with gratitude will help set the tone for the rest of your work experiences that day.

3. Before You Leave: Poet William Arthur Ward wisely stated, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

That’s why developing gratitude maybe the best action a leader must take before they can effectively giving authentic and meaningful recognition to those they work with.

And before you leave work each day, it’s a chance for you to collect feedback from your direct reports on the positive and contributory actions of employees throughout the company.

Depending on your personal choice and approach, you could write thank you cards or notes of appreciation to these employees, acknowledging the difference they’ve made in the lives of peers, customers or company.

You might even consider picking up the phone after the employees are long gone and leaving a voice mail message for them to hear later that night or first thing in the morning.

One retail-banking manager told me after receiving a voicemail message of appreciation from their regional manager that meant so much to them, they had never erased it. They sometimes replay it just to hear the appreciative thought again and then they re-save it.

Life Approach

Gratitude, according to Emmons, allows us to celebrate the present. It should become a way of life for you.

I love the word celebrate, which has at its roots the thought to observe and honor.

Are you getting out of your office enough and onto the floor, work area, or out in the field? Do you observe and simply show respect and honor to your people? See what they are doing, hear what they are saying, and try to relate to them with what they go through each day.

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work says, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

The key is paying attention to what’s going on around you. Then you can reflect and think how grateful you are for what people are tirelessly doing day in and day out. It is quite amazing when you stop to think about it.

Gratitude is a way of life that will benefit you and those you serve.

Question: How will you encourage more gratitude where you work?

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