The Business Case for Giving Thanks, Take Three

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It’s once again the Thanksgiving season—time for food, family, and another attempt to justify why your leadership practices must include a healthy dose of gratitude. I’ve discussed a litany of benefits for both you and your team and I’ve covered your return on investment. This year, I’d like to address the excuse you keep telling yourself, “It just does not feel comfortable/natural/organic.”

I’ve heard many leaders proclaim that they don’t walk around thanking people because, as they say, “It’s not who I am. I’m not mean or belligerent, I simply show appreciation in the way I treat people.” Other leaders have defended their non-gratitudeness with, “There’s no point in making a spectacle of it” and “My people are self-motivated.” One gem even went so far as to say, “They still have a job don’t they. Isn’t that enough ‘gratitude’? (this is an actual quote).

I typically don’t lend credence to leaders’ comments minimizing their need to say thanks, but a recent study is making me think twice. According to research from Anthony Ahrens, an associate professor of psychology at American University, individuals who score higher on measures of autonomy experience less gratitude and value its need less. They often feel that it undermines their independence and makes them appear “needy.”

From a personal perspective, its fine if you don’t thrive on external forms of gratitude; in fact, it is probably one of the reasons you’ve achieved all you have. But I’m trying to boost your leadership skills, not refocus your inner motivation.

According to Ahrens, there is a concern that people who are uncomfortable with gratitude may be undermining their interpersonal relationships… interpersonal relationships you need to be an effective leader. Just as you may not need others to say thanks, there are many more who need to hear it AND say it. This doesn’t not make them weak or lessen their self-drive. Think of it as a need to connect with others, feel they are part of something larger then them, and/or be acknowledged for their efforts by someone of your stature.

So if you are an autonomous, self-propelling machine of grit, drive, and inspiration, congratulations; but you still need to express your gratitude to those who choose to follow you. You set the tone for your culture, and it will be as positive or as toxic as you allow it to be. If you act in a heads down manner, people will clock in and out as they put in the minimum amount of effort. You can blame it on their lack of motivation, but the reality is that their extra effort went unnoticed so they stopped.

Reinforce the behaviors you want to see or you will not see them. Complimenting others is not difficult or time consuming, but it may take some conscious effort if you aren’t currently doing it. Practice with a “thanks” and build from there. The sooner you begin, the more likely you will be to avoid a black Friday.

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