As Thanksgiving approaches, consider what “giving thanks” means to you as a business leader. Think about how a simple expression of gratitude can serve as a critical component of motivation throughout your organization — not to mention improving and enriching your personal relationships.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin words gratia, meaning grace, and gratus, meaning pleasing, agreeable, thankful. It is a state of mind and a practice that should permeate all of our lives every day, not just in November when we gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table.

Gratitude Deficit Disorder

Unfortunately, most people feel grateful only when surprised to find themselves the recipients of an excess or abundance of good — when they win the lottery, or come face to face with someone significantly less fortunate than themselves, or land their dream job, or discover their soulmate, for example. But why wait for the experience of gratitude when enough is sufficient and when abundance of opportunity always surrounds us?

I once heard someone ask another, Which person is more grateful — the one with $5,000,000, or the one with five children?

The answer? The one with five children. Why? Because he doesn’t want any more! He is grateful for what he has.

However, when it comes to money, success, and possessions, many of us tend to always want more. That’s just human nature — or so we’re told. As soon as we have what we desire, our focus shifts from what we have to what we want. And what we still don’t have. This tendency is not always bad. In the case of business, for instance, it is at the root of our drive for continuous improvement and advancement.

When envy or greed overtakes gratitude is when we need to take a closer look at our motives. When we fail to be grateful for what we have — and for those who directly contribute to our success — we place our future success, happiness, and fulfillment at risk. After all, nobody wants to continue to contribute or offer their support when their efforts are not enough or not appreciated.

Develop a grateful mindset

While I occasionally notice leaders that are appreciative of the opportunity to lead, many leaders drive themselves to excellence and rarely take the time to appreciate all they have in their lives — especially in respect to people and relationships. They look at the day or week ahead, and the short- and long-range plan, but rarely do they take a minute to be grateful for what they’ve accomplished and who they have met along the way.

Worse, some of these executives forget to express their gratitude and appreciation to the people who contribute to making their success possible and whom also share in their struggles and victories.

As a part of our collaborative development and action planning, most of my clients set aside time for a reflective period of gratitude each day. I recommend a morning ritual, which I also practice. It takes a minimum of five minutes and the exercise consists of writing in a daily gratitude journal — to include the following:

  1. Read a motivational or inspirational quote and reflect on it.
  2. List three things you are grateful for. For example, good health, the smiles and laughter of friends and family, the ability to help and watch others flourish, the beauty of nature, the freedoms of living in the United States.
  3. Write an affirmation — something you truly believe in — starting with the words “I am going to _____” and fill in the blank. This can be a personal or professional commitment (often, it is both).

I recommend you adopt this as a morning ritual, because it sets a positive, grateful tone for the day. For me, this positive mental state motivates and trickles down to my clients and everyone else I encounter throughout my day. I have witnessed its power both in my own life and in the lives of others.

With a grateful disposition, you can help create a culture within your organization and in your personal life wherein your employees, colleagues, clients, and family know that you consider them to be indispensable. As a result, those with whom you have a business relationship will want to remain a part of what you are building. As you’ll see below, research shows that the revelation that you care about and appreciate what they are contributing makes a positive difference toward everything you attempt as a leader. For example, a simple “thank you” can make an enormous difference in the lives of those who hear it.

Gratitude motivates

The motivational effect of gratitude has been a subject of many studies, including a June 2016 study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — “Putting the ‘You’ in ‘Thank You’: Examining Other-Praising Behavior as the Active Relational Ingredient in Expressed Gratitude,” and more recently in an article by Mike Robbins in Harvard Business Review (November, 2019), “Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation.

In addition, a Glassdoor study found that while 68 percent of employees say their boss shows them enough appreciation, 53 percent said they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss. Moreover, in the same study, 81 percent of employees reported they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.

And in the groundbreaking 2019 report Measuring Culture in Leading Companies, prepared by MIT’s Sloan School of Management, it was found that management’s informal recognition of employees, as well as its consideration and courtesy for others, were among the Big 9 Cultural Values identified as critical to a business’ ability to not only survive but thrive in today’s business environment.

For further proof that gratitude in the workplace positively impacts the bottom line, read the articles in support of the following statements:

Express your gratitude

I encourage you to say “thank you” as many times a day as you can, both at home and work. Try it for at least 28 days — the period typically required on the low end to establish a new habit. Consider keeping a written or mental record of your daily expressions of gratitude along with the impact this exercise has had in your life and the lives of others.

In a corporate environment, as you express your gratitude toward others, seek to encourage them and build them up, following these guidelines:

  • Define success: Start by clearly defining what success looks like. Once you have a shared definition of what success looks like, acknowledge efforts and progress toward those objectives — and not only when the individual or team hits the mark or exceeds what’s expected. By knowing ahead of time what success looks like, you can encourage and show appreciation for what’s being attempted.
  • Be persistent and consistent: Acknowledge and appreciate everyone’s efforts and accomplishments. Award-winning independent journalist Katherine Reynolds Lewis once wrote an article for Fortune in which she told the story of April Kelly, LinkedIn’s first senior director of customer operations. Back in 2007, Kelly oversaw the launch of the company’s first Customer Support Service Center. Lewis writes:

When Kelly was leading a new call center for LinkedIn, she carved time out of her schedule to thank her staff. She sent text messages to the younger workers and handwritten cards to older employees. And she stayed late many evenings leaving personalized voice mails acknowledging how individual people contributed to the team, so the thanks would be the first thing they heard the next morning. “I knew the first thing they would do the next day was log into their voice mails,” she says.

  • Be yourself: When expressing gratitude — especially in a business setting — be authentic. If you’re reserved, be reserved when expressing gratitude, because expressions of gratitude do not come with qualifiers about voice, tone, inflection, or level of enthusiasm. Being anyone other than who are is inauthentic, and people can spot inauthenticity from a mile away.
  • Be specific: People know what they have and haven’t yet accomplished, so be specific about it (another way to demonstrate authenticity). If you want your thank you to matter, show that you know what the person has done or accomplished that is worthy of that thank you. If that means you have to first check with an employee’s manager to get some specifics, do that. While “Thanks for doing a great job” is okay, “Thanks for how you handled that call with John Smith” or “Thanks for the recommendation you made that saved us $15K last quarter” has much greater impact.

Express gratitude with recognition, incentives, and rewards

In a corporate setting, gratitude is often expressed in the form of recognition, incentives, and rewards:

  • Recognition is a discretionary act that acknowledges the individual’s effort or contribution. Recognition may be private or public and be delivered in the form of a verbal “thank you,” a note or greeting card, an e-card, or a text message.
  • Incentives are payments or concessions used to encourage specified outcomes, such as a $500 bonus for meeting or beating a sales target.
  • Rewards are items of value, such as gift cards, cash, or time off, given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or accomplishment.

Gratitude is contagious

As you express your gratitude to others at work and at home, I suspect you will begin to witness its transformational power. In addition to encouraging and building up others, your gratitude will begin to make them more grateful. We all need to look at all we have to be grateful for, but as a leader, it must start with you.

Most of us will soon be participating in the annual feast of Thanksgiving or the newly coined “Friends-giving” — a day set aside for reflection and gratitude. My challenge to you is to make it a daily practice.

Take this opportunity to start your own gratitude journal. Record both your daily expressions of gratitude and the transformational effect of your feelings of gratitude on yourself and others. Soon, you will be writing your own inspirational and motivational “quotes,” as you witness the transforming and motivating power of caring for others while genuinely showing appreciation for them.


About the Author: Jan Moorad, a former Deloitte management consultant and Major League Baseball team partner, is a Newport Beach, Calif.-based executive coach who helps C-Suite executives and their spouses pursue and achieve personal and professional fulfillment.