It’s critical that leaders are constantly creating positive experiences in order to establish and maintain a positive environment. If as the leader, you’re not doing this, how can you expect others to step up to the challenge of leading with positivity amidst a societal culture that feeds off of negativity? One practice that every leader must master if they truly want those they lead to thrive is the practice of sharing what they are grateful for. Sharing gratitudes creates positive experiences and it models a behaviour that when duplicated, further enhances both the individual’s and the collective’s ability to thrive.

The hesitation

The two main reasons people tell me that makes them hesitant to share what they are grateful for, are:

  1. I’m just not that type of person and prefer to keep to myself

  2. I don’t want to brag or appear self-promoting

For the first objection - This is part of the job and besides, leadership isn’t about you, so get over it. Seriously, leadership is responsible for creating an atmosphere that enables a thriving, productive, engaged team. Throughout history you’ll find great leaders who stepped out of their comfort zones - Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey, Lou Holtz, the list goes on.

I understand the second point. If the gratitudes I share are an endless list of the many benefits I have in my life, eventually people are going to get pretty sick of listening to me and I risk distancing myself from them, ultimately coming across as less trustworthy and purely self-interested. For example if a leader’s gratitudes expound upon their wonderful kids, how perfect they are and where they are going, the many exotic vacation destinations they travel to, the expensive restaurants they’re fortunate enough to eat in, and the cleaners who take care of all the chores around the house - this is more likely to induce comparison (mine isn’t as nice/good as theirs), judgement (there’s no way their life is that good - what aren’t they telling me?) and envy (I want what they have) rather than inspiring someone to thrive.

Here’s the trick - make more of your gratitudes about others and what others have done for your benefit. It’s that simple.

Here’s one example of how I might reframe these same gratitudes. I’m grateful for:

  • My wife and the tireless example she sets for our children

  • The flexibility of an employer that enables us to take family vacations when it is convenient for us and not necessarily convenient for the company

  • The people involved in all the preparation of our meals, from the farm to the table, and their care to ensure our food is safe to eat

  • The dedication of people who offer services to do things we can’t do (i.e. repair a plumbing problem, maintain the car) and things we’d prefer not to do (i.e. do our taxes, care for the yard) - for their expertise and their commitment to do their best

There are two sides to every gratitude and you can see in the example above, I’ve included a bit from each side in a few of the gratitudes. On one side, there’s the benefit to you and on the other, there’s the sacrifice made by someone else. When you share what you’re grateful for, it’s ok to include gratitudes that are framed as benefits to you, but make sure you’re sharing gratitudes that acknowledge how others have contributed to you.

The massive benefit

The practice of sharing gratitudes that focus on the contributions and sacrifices of others removes you from your gratitudes altogether. Being “other-focused” is very powerful. When you acknowledge other people’s contributions to your successes and good fortunes you demonstrate vulnerability and acknowledge your interdependence with others. This helps builds trust because you’re neither a hero nor a victim - you’re a regular human being, just like everyone else.

And while the exact cause and effect mechanisms are still unknown, this practice creates an environment that enables teams and individuals to thrive.