The year was 1623. About half of the Plymouth colony died that year. And while the community was about ready to head into another difficult winter, recent fall rains ended what was a challenging and persistent drought. So Governor William Bradford called a gathering – a three-hour “staff meeting” of sorts. The main purpose of the meeting – really the only item on the agenda – was to facilitate a collective expression of gratitude. As he put it, a “thanksgiving” – a day devoted not to turkey and football as it is today, but to prayer and reflection. And a day to commemorate the feast the colonists shared two years earlier with Native Americans.
Fast forward a century-and-a-half to 1789, when it wasn’t completely clear that the young United States of America would survive as a sovereign nation. As the country’s first president, George Washington declared a Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving – a time of reflection and gratitude. And nearly 100 years later, in 1863, as the nation was beginning to unify again after years of Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation making Thanksgiving an official national holiday.
What’s similar in the three stories of Bradford, Washington, and Lincoln? According to Sam Walker in a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago, all three leaders governed over dark, challenging times. And all three leaders – at the first sign of deliverance – “sought to heal divisions, lift morale and build resolve by fostering a spirit of thankfulness.” They appreciated the power of reflection, and they understood that setting aside time for gratitude would serve to rejuvenate people.
In the season of thanksgiving, it’s a good reminder not just to be grateful for what we all have as individuals (our family, friends, careers, health, homes), but to show gratitude in our professional relationships – for our team members and colleagues. The reason to do so is pretty obvious, but is worth stating: gratitude facilitates collaboration, engagement, and ultimately leads to better organizational outcomes. (It also leads to better health for us as individuals.)
Cited in the WSJ article, a 2012 study commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation found that 71% of American workers said they’d feel better about themselves if their boss expressed more gratitude for their efforts, while 81% said they would work harder. However, people said they were less likely to express gratitude at work than any other place, and only 39% of American workers were grateful for their jobs. Obviously, there’s a disconnect (or a significant opportunity). I’m sure given today’s challenges – staffing shortages, stress and burnout levels, among other things – the tension is even stronger.
So how do leaders (or any professionals who are part of a team) show gratitude toward their colleagues? Here are some simple ideas you can put in place immediately:
- Make a daily list of things for which you are grateful, focusing on your organization and your team. Commit to sharing at least one item from the list with a coworker every day. Sounds corny, but it works. And it becomes habit.
- Send a personal note to a colleague (or customer or partner), thanking him/her for something meaningful. Handwritten is better. When they are not expecting it even better.
- Spend time with your team talking about your organization’s mission, vision, and values – of what’s truly important to the organization’s success. According to the WSJ, a 2014 KPMG study found that 94% of employees whose managers talked about mission believed the firm was a great place to work, as opposed to 66% of those whose managers did not. That’s a pretty clear correlation.
- Spend time getting to know your team members on a personal level – ask about their kids, their hobbies and interests, and certainly their career aspirations. One way to do it: at the beginning of staff meetings, have every team member take 60 seconds to share one personal item that’s meaningful and current for them (a trip they’re taking; how their weekend went; a challenge they’re facing; and so forth). It may be awkward at first, but it sets the tone that your employees are people and have lives outside of work. Asking (and then really listening) about what’s going on with them goes a long way in building relationships – and to better understanding what’s going on in their world.
- Be present. When one of your colleagues is talking, listen. Truly listen for understanding. And thank them for their perspective.
- Avoid complaining or passing judgment – try it for a whole day. Focus on the positive in any situation. Even if things are going wrong, flip it and try to find the silver lining in a situation – the lesson from a failure, the hidden benefit of a negative event.
- Have fun as a team. Go out to lunch (and try not to talk too much about work); schedule a social event as a group; play a game. Do something that is enjoyable (keeping in mind that “enjoyable” means different things to different people).
- Smile more often. Nobody likes a pessimist. Find the positive in any situation.
- Keep a gratitude journal – an ongoing list of the things (personal and professional) for which you are thankful. Research shows that just keeping a list will help you experience an increase in optimism and energy.
- Call a meeting for the sole purpose of expressing thanks – a modern-day version of what Governor Bradford did in 1623. Go around the room and offer one thing for which team members are grateful of other team members – either verbally or in written form. Make this experience peer-to-peer as much as it’s leader-to-worker.
Business is about people. And the more you show gratitude for those you work with, the stronger the relationships you’ll form, the more optimism you and your team will feel, and the better collective results you will all enjoy. Expressing gratitude within your team may at first feel corny – and it may cause people to feel vulnerable or even emotional. But that builds trust and over time forms deep relationships.
So just like Bradford, Washington and Lincoln, recognize the power of giving thanks within your team – not just in November, but year-round.
What other insights/tips do you have on gratitude? Participate in a discussion on this topic: visit our LinkedIn group to post a comment.
Never stop improving!
Brian S. Lassiter
President, Performance Excellence Network
†Catalyst for Success Since 1987!
Photo credit chintanjain.com, beliefnet.com
[this article modified from an original post November 2018]