Grateful To Your Employees? Show It!

Sep 02, 2020 5 Min Read
showing gratitude, thumbs up, thankful


Throughout history, the best leaders have always shown that they are the ones who should be grateful.

In a recent article, Kindness is Crucial - and it Requires a lot of Strength, I wrote about the importance of kindness in leadership and how, even in the face of adversity, it helps us stay connected to the people around us and the values we hold.

Another crucial quality that defines effective leadership is the ability to be grateful, to show gratitude for the blessings we receive.
As with kindness, gratitude is seen by some as a "woo-woo" concept; however, research over the past 20 years has indicated strong benefits of nurturing the skill of gratitude in terms of improving our ability to connect and inspire greater employee engagement and motivation.

Gratitude can be defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness, which implies the value of demonstrating gratitude through leadership in terms of strengthening bonds.
Gratitude shows others that not only do we care, we also "" appreciate the contributions of all employees, the fact they show up and get the work done every day and enable the milestones, the achievements, and the reputation that their organisation enjoys.

One of my favourite displays of gratitude by a leader came from Barack Obama. The outgoing President of the United States interrupted the final daily press briefing by his press secretary, Josh Earnest, to deliver a heartfelt speech about how much he admired and valued his spokesman. Regardless of your political leanings, it's difficult to watch the video and not see the effects of Obama's praise and gratitude. At the very least, we see a leader who truly values his people, and how people reciprocate that gratitude with commitment to his vision Obama surprises press secretary. In leadership, gratitude can often be neglected. For much of the time, we are busy planning and preparing for tomorrow, or looking at past performances and trends to glean valuable lessons.
It's easy to forget to pause and be grateful for where we are today.

1. Our People Make Us
I've heard some leaders in the past say that people should be grateful for having a job

Even in difficult times, the people who stand by us are here today, and what they do, day-in day-out, they matter. Leaders who take the time to regularly offer their gratitude send a clear message to their people: what you do matters and I couldn't do what I'm doing without your hard work and commitment. Thank you.

When we talk about investing in people, there's no greater return than when we show people our gratitude for what they do. I've heard some leaders in the past say that people should be grateful for having a job – that's totally the wrong attitude for today's era.

Actually, it's the wrong attitude for any era. Throughout history, the best leaders have always shown that are the ones who should be grateful for the people who show up and get the job done.
But how does being thankful benefit us as leaders? There are several science-backed reasons to build our gratitude muscles, and here I've outlined five benefits that come with being a leader who serves others with gratitude.

Read another piece: 4 Pieces of Advice for My Future Daughter

2. Being Grateful Improves Our Overall Health
Research by positive psychology pioneer Dr Martin Seligman and his colleagues (2005) found that cultivating habits centred around gratitude (such as keeping a daily gratitude journal) increases our resilience to stress, improves sleep quality, and enhances emotional awareness – a crucial quality of great leadership.

3. Gratitude Enriches Our Relationships
One result of being consistently grateful is that it brings us more into the present moment, making us more mindful leaders. Neuroscience researchers at Harvard found that, when we are more mindful, we improve our perspective-taking, see things more objectively and, as a result, we connect with others on a deeper level.

In other words, the ego trap of leadership starts to fade and in its place is an authentic focus on we, rather than me, when running a team or organisation.

4.Having a Thankful Mindset Enhances Humility.
It's a word we talk about often in leadership: the need for humility. But let's face it, being humble in a position of authority or status is no easy feat (Side note: a sure sign of false humility is when we tell people we're humble).
As leaders, it's easy to focus on what we do and what we try to do for others. Gratitude reminds us that so much is done for on a daily basis and that any success we enjoy wouldn't be possible without the daily contributions of so many talented and bright people around us.
Humility reminds us that we are part of a team and that, as leaders, we have just as much room for improvement as anyone else – if not more so.

5. Inspires Gratitude Throughout the Team and Organisation
In their book, Prosocial, David Sloan Wilson, Paul W.B. Atkins, and Steven C. Hayes make an interesting point regarding evolution and group performance.

If an individual wants to be successful within a group, looking after their own interests is a beneficial strategy. However, groups that have more grateful, altruistic people tend to thrive better collectively compared to other groups.

Leading by example, when leaders demonstrate gratitude and service to others, these qualities ripple throughout the organisation. In turn, thanks to what psychologists call the Mirror Neuron System, people are inspired to cultivate and apply similar behaviours, creating a culture of collaboration and support as less helpful traits (such as envy and disregard) fade away.

6. We Become Better Leaders
Developing gratitude offers a range of evidence-based benefits, from perspective-taking and increased empathy and understanding, to being more objective, supportive, and collaborative. Leaders who demonstrate gratitude consistently have been shown to inspire a more engaged workforce and help reduce incidents of absenteeism and presenteeism.

And the best thing about gratitude is that it's a skill that can be learned, rather than a trait we either have or don't.

See Also: Boost Your Influence And Retain Top Talents

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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at


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