Most leaders understand that expressions of gratitude for employees' efforts can be a huge motivation and productivity booster, especially during tough times. Yet while practicing gratitude seems like it should be a no-brainer, it's anything but common, say leadership experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.

In scores of interviews with teams, the authors hear employees say they feel unappreciated. Many of them claim they actually feel under assault.

In their new book Leading with Gratitude, Gostick & Elton show the ingratitude myths that managers fall prey to at work. For example, "I just don't have time to thank my people," and "it's better to be tough and stingy with recognition." Meanwhile, 81 percent of working adults say they would work harder if their boss were more grateful for their work.

I recently interviewed one of the two New York Times bestselling authors, Chester Elton, who shared the practical steps from Leading with Gratitude that will help leaders become better at this fundamental leadership skill.

1. Solicit and act on input.

Gratitude is about more than expressing thanks, it's about seeing where value is created. And one of the best places to start is by soliciting and acting upon input from employees. Research has found workers become more engaged when they have a voice and when they see fellow employees' ideas being used.

2. Walk in their shoes.

One of the great enablers of authentic gratitude is developing empathy for others. Many of the managers profiled in Leading with Gratitude coached themselves to see value being created by regularly asking people about how they're approaching their work. They also asked their employees to share some recent accomplishments that can help them understand their worlds better.

3. Look for small wins.

Research finds the single most important factor in boosting motivation in the creative process is when employees feel they are making daily progress in meaningful work. One of the most distinctive attributes of great leaders is they notice and express appreciation for small-scale efforts as much as they celebrate major achievements.

4. Tailor to the individual.

A lot of leaders think one-size-fits-all when it comes to gratitude. For instance, they give out Starbucks cards to everyone who does anything noteworthy. As one manager learned, one of his employees didn't even drink coffee and was giving the cards to her neighbor. Not everyone appreciates the same rewards. We humans have very different motivators at work. The nuances in a person's specific nature show up in which of these motivators are most important, and smart leaders use the knowledge of individual motivators to tailor expressions of gratitude to each team member.​ 

5. Make it peer-to-peer.

Manager-to-employee and peer-to-peer gratitude fulfill separate human needs. When employees are grateful to each other, they affirm positive concepts typically valued in their colleagues, such as trustworthiness, dependability, and talent. This reinforces the concept of psychological safety. Great managers encourage this type of peer-to-peer reinforcement of their values.

The book's eye-opening final chapter teaches leaders how to cultivate better relationships with their loved ones -- to better see them and value them. Some leaders give their best selves at work but have little left over for the people who should mean the most in their lives. And the opposite is just as common: leaders who are grateful, gracious, and respectful with friends and loved ones while ungrateful on the job.

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Published on: Mar 6, 2020
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