GratitudeJane is overwhelmed at work with more on her to-do list than she can get done. John has a co-worker that is just plain difficult to work with.  Claire has an inner critic that is really loud and she can’t get a break. Michael is trying to motivate his team but just can’t get them engaged. Know anyone facing these types of issues? A friend, perhaps even you? If you face any of these challenges, starting a gratitude practice will help.

In my book Wired for Authenticity, one of the seven practices I talk about is “Give Yourself An A”. This practice is about fully accepting and appreciating all parts of you (including your flaws) as a way to be more powerful as a leader. This mindset of finding the good in yourself, in others, and in every situation helps you lead adaptively from your core and build a culture of engagement, resilience, innovation, and productivity.

How does practicing gratitude help us be better leaders?  What are some simple ideas to practice it? Read on.

Three Benefits of Gratitude at Work

1)  Gratitude generates positive energy – When we look upon any situation and focus on what’s working rather than what’s not working, research shows we feel happier, more optimistic, more energized, more empathetic. Studies also show its great effects on our overall health and well-being. This energy helps us meet goals, face challenges, be resilient, and inspire others.

2)  Gratitude helps us set the right vision & priorities – As we look at challenging business situations or even our unending to-do lists, we can easily get overwhelmed if we focus on just what’s not working or what remains to be done.  Fear and anxiety can set in. This prevents us from thinking clearly. Gratitude is the antidote to fear and anxiety.  By focusing on “what’s working” we can create a vision for the business or ourselves that is grounded in “strengths” – what’s creating the success we have achieved.  Starting with an understanding of what’s working is a strong foundation upon which to grow and change.

3)  Gratitude builds engagement and results – When we focus on and express what’s good in others, it builds our connection to them.  Others feel valued for their work and cared about as individuals. Latest research on employee engagement indicates “being valued” is a key driver of sustainable engagement. According to Tony Schwartz in this HBR blog, “no single behavior more viscerally and reliably influences the quality of people’s energy than feeling valued and appreciated by their supervisor”.  According to the latest studies companies high in sustainable engagement have a 27% operating margin compared to 1o% for companies at low engagement levels.

So how do we get time for gratitude in our frenzied work environments? We practice gratitude to develop a gratitude mind-set. It becomes a habit.

Five Practices for Developing A Gratitude Mind-Set

1)  Keep a gratitude journal – For gratitude to be authentic, I recommend to my executive coaching clients that they journal every day about what they’re grateful for.  The daily practice of writing “three things that worked well today” helps us develop our neural pathways to notice the positive.  Plus it gives us a boost of energy! I have recently been part of a virtual (e-mail) gratitude accountability circle. Five people share our gratitude each day. What is miraculous is on the days I am feeling down, when I look for something to be grateful for I always find it, and it always makes me feel better!

2)  Notice your own strengths – I ask executive coaching clients to note their successes daily. I ask them to write about which strengths they observed in themselves that created those successes. This is a critically important practice. Noticing and being grateful for our own strengths helps us feel confident in our authentic selves so we can genuinely compliment others from a place of strength rather that from a place of insecurity.

3)  Notice the contribution of others – In every interaction with others, I make it a practice to look for one strength area or contribution they make.  Then I just recognize it simply by saying for example “what I’m noticing about you is your resilience in this situation”. Genuinely noticing and helping people recognize their strengths is a huge gift we can give to others. It also creates great positive energy in ourselves.  The key to doing this well is not comparing the person to a preset standard we have of what “good” looks like and waiting to complement them until that standard is achieved.  It’s simply catching them doing something right. We generally find what we’re looking for, so let’s look for what’s good.

4)  Notice what’s working in a situation – In challenging situations or meetings or even in everyday situations, we can choose to take the time to pause and refocus ourselves and others on what’s working well.  This reduces the tension and builds momentum for us to tackle the issues.

5)  Create a culture of gratitude – As leaders our behavior has a meaningful impact on setting the culture of the organization.  When I was General Manager for our business in Mexico, one simple practice we did to build a culture of gratitude was to give everyone note cards they could hand out to others as often and as freely as they wanted. The note cards said: “Gracias por hacer la differencia”. Thank you for making a difference. It made a difference in our culture and our productivity. The 2012 APA Study of 1,700 Workers shows the importance of feeling valued to productivity

Practicing gratitude and appreciation for ourselves and others has probably one of the highest returns on investment of any action we can take as leaders.  It costs us nothing and creates incredible energy and impact.  Pick from the above. Create a list of your own. Just start practicing. It will soon become habit.