Chances are, you’ve spent some time this season expressing your gratitude to others, whether sharing it at the dinner table or scrawling it into a holiday card.
But if you’re only really showing your gratitude at this time of year, you’re missing out on a powerful leadership tool. Numerous studies have shown that intentionally cultivating and expressing gratitude can have far-reaching benefits. Researchers from Northeastern University found that when someone is shown gratitude, they are more likely to go out of their way to help both strangers and the person who thanked them. Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people who habitually express gratitude experienced a greater sense of well-being, and deeper personal relationships.
For leaders, gratitude is especially important. Not only does showing gratitude enhance your well-being, it helps build trust, confidence, and can vastly improve a team’s productivity. Here are four simple ways that you can get better at expressing gratitude as a leader:
Imagine you receive two different holiday cards: In one, the sender has only written your name, letting Hallmark do the talking; in the other, the sender has handwritten a message that overflows onto the back flap. Which one means more to you?
When you express gratitude in a personal way, it leaves a lasting impression. Instead of sending a thank-you email, try writing a note by hand or thanking your team member in a one-on-one.
Keep in mind, gratitude doesn’t have to involve grand gestures. Even small, personal expressions of appreciation can help people feel that their contributions are valued. They put in more effort on their own and also become more willing to help their team.
It’s pretty easy to rattle off a list of the people you’re thankful for. It can be more challenging to explain why you’re thankful for them.
Researchers from Harvard and Wharton business schools ran a study on workers who were making fundraising calls for a university. One group of callers had a supervisor spend a few minutes with them, talking about why their work was important and thanking them for it. Nobody thanked the control group. The workers that experienced their supervisor’s gratitude made an average of 50% more calls over the course of a week.
When expressing gratitude to a coworker, think about their particular attributes. Do they contribute something to the team that nobody else offers? Do they amplify other teammates’ abilities? What are their strengths (or superpowers) and how do they show up to help the team? Convey to them, “I see you, and you’re valued here.”
When diagramming software company Lucidchart wanted to thank its employees, it didn’t just opt for a pep talk. Its team had been creating a series of pop culture flowcharts for a client, so managers riffed on the idea and made flowcharts for each of their team members, full of inside jokes and compliments on their work.
Senior brand messaging specialist Libby Thomas told Fast Company, “It was honestly one of the most thoughtful and fun gifts I’ve ever received—and it came from my boss.”
Take a page out of Lucidchart’s book and look for creative ways to express your gratitude. Enlist the help of others who know the person well and take into consideration what they might appreciate.
Get into the habit
Recognizing his tendency as a leader to constantly zero in on faults and shortcomings, Mark Zuckerberg challenged himself to make a habit of expressing gratitude. In 2014, the Facebook CEO sent a thank-you note each day of the year.
“It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” Zuckerberg told Bloomberg Businessweek. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built.”
Leaders who spend a lot of time trying to improve things can lose sight of (or take for granted) what is working well within their own teams.
Become more fluent in expressing gratitude by building it into your daily routine. Choose a moment each day when you’re unencumbered by other obligations (maybe during your commute); think about one person you are thankful for and jot down a few reasons why. With time, giving thanks will become not only an annual obligation, but a powerful way to reframe your and your team’s perspective.