How can giving thanks make a difference?

One of the marks of leadership- for better or for worse- is the propensity to dream. Leaders see, leaders envision, leaders want, and they want more and more. It seems that the closer we get to one of our goals, the farther away another, bigger goal seems. And usually, we start dreaming about ten new things before we’ve even accomplished the first. This ambition is what makes innovators cutting edge, and what makes activists see change in the world. They don’t pass a frontier and settle on it- they move on to the next bigger challenge, sometimes without a moment of rest in between. To be clear, this isn’t always a bad thing- in fact, I personally believe dreams should be BIG- too big for us to accomplish all at once. When we are passionate about those dreams, we get caught up in them, and it fuels us to go forward. The problem comes only when we forget to stop- at least once in awhile- and be grateful. Even though our instincts may tell us to blaze ahead and seek the next challenge, or to wallow in our disappointment in not being where we think we should be, a lot can be said for stopping to appreciate what we have done, and even just the potential of what could be in the future. For me, being the “head out of the clouds” realist I can sometimes be, this isn’t always easy. Stopping to be happy or grateful isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when I’m on my never ending quest for efficiency and goal accomplishing, but when I really consider it, this tiny, seemingly wasteful stop to be thankful on a daily basis can actually make us better leaders in the long run. I mean let’s think about it:

Gratitude is Motivational

Have you ever put thought into how many times a day we complain? Even if it’s just mentally, so many of us do it all the time. Not to mention how often we sell ourselves short, and size up the distance between us and our final life goals. The worst part is, leaders very rarely have someone around to motivate, encourage them, or give them positive feedback. We are usually the ones that have to do it, but don’t always get it. If we think about it, though, being grateful is a way to give yourself your own personal pep-talk. Taking a few minutes each day to think back on where you used to be, how much you have grown, or even the fact that you made it out of some situations alive, can give you a little push forward.  In fact, research shows that a grateful attitude is directly linked to the reduction of depressing emotions like envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. Multiple studies conducted by a researcher named Robert A. Emmons, Ph. D.  have found that people who rank higher in gratitude are more likely to be happy or satisfied with their lives. As leaders, it can be easy to get caught up in what hasn’t happened yet, and regret and frustration are a common theme among so many of the leaders I talk to. But perhaps if we can learn to be more grateful, we can keep ourselves from falling into a pattern of unhappiness which is not only ineffective- it’s contagious and can hurt our progress, and our teams.

Gratitude is Relational

Sometimes we overlook how little we thank our teams, our families, or our friends. In the midst of all our activity, we  can get out of the habit of recognizing the things they do, and can take them for granted. But in the same way gratitude is like a pep-talk for leaders, it’s a pep-talk for teams as well. According to a 2104 study published in Emotion, Gratitude makes others more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. If you’ve been looking for a way to connect with a quiet or disappointed team member, saying thank you could be a good start. Who's to say that’s not exactly what they need to spark something new?

Gratitude is Favorable

As I did my research for this post, I discovered that there are more than just a few health benefits of having a grateful heart and mind. Countless studies link gratitude to better sleep, stress reduction, and even the ability to overcome loss or trauma. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased self-esteem, leading many athletes to stronger performances. Gratitude also reduces the likelihood of social comparisons. In a world where a few more likes on another person’s pictures can send leaders into competition-crazed frenzies, we need a little less of that. It’s possible that an attitude of gratefulness can serve to keep you healthier, which in turn will actually get you closer to your goals.

The truth is, being a leader is stressful. It isn’t always easy to sit at the driver’s seat, and be responsible for both the victories and the failures of a team. Because the best leaders are personally committed and passionate about their work, anything that can help us cope when things are going the way we’ve planned is a plus, and gratitude does just that. We can all benefit from a few minutes of gratitude a day. Let’s be thankful to ourselves, and recognize our accomplishments, even when we’ve yet to reach perfection. And with our teams when they fall short as well. Most of all, let’s be thankful with God for the little things we tend to take for granted.

Vanessa GraciaComment