"Saying thank you is good business. It not only inspires recipients, it leads to personal growth on the part of the person astute enough to employ those words."
--"Recognition, Gratitude and Celebration" by Patrick Townsend and Joan Gebhardt

People have lost the first--and arguably one of the most important--skillsets they learn as human beings: the undeniable power and politeness of "please and thank you."

But it goes beyond politeness, really. I find that the most powerful and effective leaders are those not only cognizant of their support systems, but self-aware enough to give the people who helped them succeed a meaningful thank you.

There is no such thing as a "self-made man." Every success story started in someone's garage, under the influence of someone's leadership, propelled by a supportive community, or inspired by a passionate teacher or parent.

In a business world full of branded tchotchkes and restaurant gift cards, there are many ways to recognize the employees and people who matter.

But recognition is not the same thing as gratitude.

Gratitude is both an experience and an attitude--a way of looking at the world around you to see the parts greater than yourself that have helped make your world and business success a reality.

Here are some ways to increase your gratitude and share it in your company:

  1. Learn the truth behind your own success--Indulge yourself in this exercise: map out several of your accomplishments and make a list of every person and circumstance that contributed to them.  This is a fun activity (and yes, sometimes painful) as it not only reminds you of the great things that can come from less than desirable circumstances, but also brings back the people that, for better or worse, impacted your life to get you where you are today. Keep this practice going in your day-to-day work life, always seeking the contributing architects of your success and taking time to encourage and acknowledge them directly when possible.  You'll be shocked at how many employees don't even realize the full impact of the contributions. This is a terrific way to boost morale and help others see their place in the bigger picture.
  2. Embed gratitude into your culture--You already know that your actions as a leader set the tone for the rest of your team.  I work hard to make gratitude a regular part of my interactions, including regular demonstrations of gratitude during our all-hands weekly meeting (being careful to realize who prefers public versus private thanks). My Customer Service team keeps the culture of gratitude going through weekly "WOW" notes--employees write specific "you WOW-ed me when..." notes to one another in celebration of the encouragement, training moments, sales leads and other events that make our co-workers special to us.
  3. Celebrate the present AND the past--Nostalgia is a way to be grateful for your past. In the Blinds.com office, we celebrate our company history in a number of way, including naming meeting rooms after important events and places, investing heavily in great photography and framing to document special moments, and even by taking new employees on a citywide tour re-tracing our origin story.

Gratitude can have some surprising side effects too.  According to Robert Emmons of the Greater Good Science Center, gratitude can help block toxic emotions that get in the way of our long-term happiness.

It also helps magnify the goodness in your life and decrease envy and depression by widening our scope of reality to interpret life events differently.

Be the leader that inspires the next generation of success stories.  Take the time to ingrain gratitude into your organization's DNA and I guarantee that someone will be grateful that you did.