“Well, the Internet was down for days and just came back up last week. And my computer also caught on fire.”
“Your computer caught fire?”
“Yes. It’s pretty common here because the electricity isn’t consistent. But I’m actually glad these things are happening now, so I can figure out how to get around this stuff before my business officially launches and I’ve got clients to answer to.”
I had this conversation with one of my coaching clients who lives in an island country. For one thing, it made me feel grateful for the reliable public utilities I take for granted. And for another, it was an arresting example of how powerful genuine gratitude can be for business leaders and entrepreneurs.
How come? Because if my client had instead gotten upset, his business would’ve stalled during the crucial period in the run-up to his launch. Not only did that appreciative attitude help him hang onto his peace of mind, it also allowed him to work out creative solutions to the nontechnical components of his business. Finding opportunity in a fried computer isn’t something many of us probably excel at. But that ability–and others like it–can offer some major advantages.
With that in mind, here are five habits of leaders who show meaningful gratitude, and the reasons why it counts.
Chances are that most often, your time and attention are consumed with addressing performance issues. Taking notice of what the people in your company are doing right isn’t always easy. So make time for it. Once a day, let an employee know not just that you’re grateful for them, but why you are. Say or write–even if it’s just in a quick email, “I appreciate when you did_____,” or “Just want you to know I really like how you always_____.”
This will have two benefits. First, you’ll start looking for what the people around you are doing well, which will increase your own happiness with the work you’re all doing together. Ask any leader, and they’ll tell you that can be tough, especially when a business is new or going through dramatic changes. Second, expressing gratitude can actually boost your employees’ own performance. They’ll feel like they’re making a real contribution that’s actually recognized.
In a study at the Wharton School of Business, researchers split fundraisers into two groups, asking one to call alumni seeking donations the usual way. The second group first got a pep talk from the development director, who told them how grateful she was for all their hard work. Over the course of the next week, the latter group of fundraisers made 50% more calls than those who hadn’t heard her message.
Some of the best things in life are free, as they say, but most of them aren’t. Monetary or otherwise, there’s almost always some sort of cost associated with getting great outcomes. But we aren’t always good at internalizing this reality. The most appreciative leaders know that when their businesses grow, they’ll have even more work to do–that that simply comes with the territory. But for others, that comes as a surprise, and they end up grumbling, and the quality of their work suffers.
Instead of getting caught in a catch-22 of dissatisfaction, consider what the alternative scenario might be. You don’t need to pretend–or delude yourself into thinking–that everything that happens is for the best. Sometimes things will go wrong, and you need to acknowledge when they do. But grateful leadership is all about perspective.
Think about why the thing that’s making you unhappy contributes to the big picture–and how things could just as easily be different. For example: “Reviewing all these invoices is no fun, but I’m grateful we’re sending out so many of them, because it would be much worse to not have enough business right now.”
If you have trouble letting go of a troubling work situation, take about 20 minutes to write about the situations in light of what you can be grateful for about it now. Was there something you learned that can help you improve how your business runs in the future? Was the situation less bad than it could have been? Did you and your team grow stronger?
According to recent research, finding reasons to be grateful for unpleasant situations can lead to fewer negative memories bombarding you where you’re struggling with self-blame and doubt. I’ve even found in my experience coaching some clients that a few minutes of journaling before bed can dial down anxieties, highlight the good things, and even help them fall asleep.
Whatever else might be going wrong, chances are there’s at least something–no matter how small–that’s going right. Think about how good it feels to have pulled off that last big project, no matter how worried you are about the next one. Consider how glad you are to be able to provide for your employees and your family.
The most grateful leaders have deep memories and grand ambitions, but they don’t sell the present moment short. Take a moment to enjoy every detail of what’s right here, right now–even if it isn’t perfect. It’s amazing how we can miss the beauty of the moment by overthinking the past or future.
If you learn to see feedback as a gift and thank people for it, there are a couple of useful upshots you can look forward to. The most obvious one is that you’ll be less likely to feel frustrated or offended when you receive it. And second, other people will be more likely to give you constructive criticism. Whether you take it to heart or not, that will give you a better idea of others’ sense of your skills and performance–all useful data, not just for leaders, but for their companies as well.
Sometimes you’ll learn that certain clients or employees aren’t the best fit for your company. Other times you’ll find something out that helps you run your business more effectively. Start by making it your automatic default to express gratitude (see habit No. 1), then sift through what to incorporate and what to let go. As a result of this feedback loop, truly appreciative leaders tend to have their finger on the pulse of their organizations.
To foster gratitude in your workplace, recount what you’ve been through together. These narratives are particularly helpful if they illustrate how even in the midst of seemingly dire situations, good things happened. Maybe you turned a major blow-up into an opportunity to build a fresh relationship with a client. Or how a potentially fatal misstep led to an insight or innovation you wouldn’t otherwise have come across.
Not only do these stories stir up positive emotions among those who’ve experienced them, they also create a strong foundation for company culture that can be passed along to new employees over time and expanded as the company grows.