How Should Leaders Show Gratitude?

November stirs up images of turkeys and parades and football games, and men’s facial hair (thanks no-shave-November!).  Social media is often filled with expressions of gratitude during this season.  I enjoy reading the daily posts listing the big and small things that my friends and family are grateful for.  Toward the end of the month the lists get fewer and simpler…showing gratitude in our everyday lives is challenging!  Showing gratitude as a leader can be just as hard.

So how can you show gratitude as a leader?

Write a note.

I am a huge fan of the handwritten note.  When I receive them, I know the person who wrote it cares about me.  They took the time to put their thoughts onto paper and send it to me, not email it to me instantly.  I stop and evaluate the influence that person has in my life, and a bond is created.  Expressing gratitude is a natural fit for a note.  You may want to thank a team member for an exceptional job, or you may want to encourage someone who is struggling by reminding them how they’ve impacted you in the past.


Respect their time.

This is a great way to show gratitude to both people on your team, and to your own leader.  When meeting with your team, keep things as short as possible.  We all want time to actually do our work, so giving your team that opportunity conveys gratefulness for what they accomplish.  On the other hand, your leader is a very busy person, right?  When you request time with him or her, know how much time you’ll need.  Don’t ask for a 30 minute meeting if you only need 10 minutes of her time.  Thank her for taking time to talk with you, and use that time wisely.


Give your time.

We give time to what we value.  Hopefully as a leader what you value the most is the people around you.  Gratitude is a natural extension of showing how much you value something.  When you take the time to have a cup of coffee or lunch with someone on your team, you are communicating that you value and are grateful for that person.


Don’t take the credit.

You’ve probably head the saying, “Great leaders take all of the blame and none of the credit.”  Your team needs to hear that they are the reason for the successes that you celebrate.  And when things aren’t going so well, you as the leader should take that responsibility.  If you take the credit, you are essentially telling your team that their time, energy, and effort are wasted.  Instead, show your gratitude for their contributions by giving them the credit.


Say it publicly and privately.

Gratitude should be expressed publicly – in a team meeting, in a newsletter, or on social media.  To be known as a leader full of gratitude, make an effort to publicly thank your team, your family, or your boss for who they are, and for what they do.  Private expressions of gratitude are just as important – take the time to stop by someone’s office, send a quick text, or even make a phone call.  When you go out of your way to express gratitude, it speaks volumes of your character as a leader.


Be generous to your team.

You may have the ability in your context of leadership to give financial bonuses to your team as an expression of your gratitude.  If you have that ability, DO IT!  But if you don’t, you still have the ability to be generous.  Pay for that cup of coffee.  Plan a simple party.

When a new volunteer joins my team, they fill out a “snapshot”.  It’s a one-page paper that asks them some basic demographical questions as well as some of their “favorites”.  I want to know things like their favorite snack, favorite candy, favorite drink, and favorite color.  Every week, I choose several people to surprise with something from their favorites list.  It doesn’t cost a lot, but it gives me a chance to say thank you while giving them something I already know they love!

(You can read more about Becoming a Generous Leader.)


Pay it forward.

I am so grateful for the people who invest in me and help me become a better leader.  I can’t think of a better way to show my gratitude than by doing the same for someone else.  I may choose to invest in someone already on my team, or someone I see potential in.  By helping someone else learn to lead, I live out my own gratitude for being invested in.

Leaders are always looking ahead to what is next, and at times that means we are more focused on what we don’t have yet than on what we already have.  Expressing gratitude as a leader short-circuits that dangerous path.  It reminds me that the incredible people and successes that are in front of me right now are worth celebrating.  My pastor frequently reminds us that “what we fail to celebrate (show gratitude for) will eventually leave our lives.”


Take a moment today and use one of these ideas to show gratitude to someone you lead.


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