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Leadership: Why Gratitude Really Matters Now

Gratitude is a leadership superpower. In a down economy or toxic workplace, things get negative quickly. Most trying to survive the day, living from weekend to weekend. What was a minor concern yesterday is a company critical issue today. After a while, given the increased complexity of decision-making, added stress harms employee well-being. A global study of 14,800 knowledge workers across 25 countries revealed that 74% of employees are looking to company leadership for help dealing with workplace stress and 49% of leaders are themselves struggling with anxiety. This is where gratitude makes all the difference for the leader and team. But gratitude in the workplace often gets lost when times get tough. Leadership is more than making someone do something. It is about selfless influence and bringing out the best in followers. Before a positive mindset can be restored, gratitude is one thing that must be saved. Here is why leadership gratitude matters now and three practical tips for building a habit of gratitude.

Why gratitude matters now

If you immerse yourself in the daily news, the future of work appears dire – supply chain constraints, geopolitical conflict, inflation, and historic labor shortages are projected to persist. Looking ahead to next year, even the World Bank suggests that stagflation is a real possibility.

Employees are stressed out, and the costs of workplace stress and burnout are high. To quantify workplace stress costs, a recent study found that workplace stressors in the United States account for more than 120,000 deaths per year and approximately 5-8% of annual healthcare costs.

The Mayo Clinic found that the personal and organizational side effects of stress include:

  • broken relationships

  • substance abuse

  • depression

  • decreased customer satisfaction

  • reduced productivity

  • increased employee turnover

Stress is an emotional contagion. Research has demonstrated that co-workers can spread stress within a workgroup. For example, someone on your team who feels down enters a meeting. Within a few minutes, the entire team's emotions mimic their behaviors and non-verbal expressions.

The following short NPR video discusses how emotions like stress are contagious.

Gratitude is a positive emotion that brings balance to a negative mindset. Many studies link gratitude with improved health, increased happiness, and decreased anxiety and depression. The following short video explains some of the science behind why gratitude matters.

Likewise, feeling appreciated is linked to well-being and employee performance. A study involving over 1700 working adults revealed that those who feel valued by their leader are more likely to report higher levels of physical and mental health, engagement, satisfaction, and motivation when compared to those who do not.

What does leadership gratitude mean?

According to the American Psychological Association, gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and happiness in response to receiving a gift, either a tangible benefit given by someone or a fortunate happenstance.

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others." – Cicero.

Leadership gratitude consists of an affirmation of goodness outside of ourselves. Gratitude involves the ability to acknowledge the good and a sense of thankfulness. Empathy, kindness, and love are closely related to the virtue of gratitude.

The following video from gratitude expert Robert Emmons addresses what gratitude means.

3 Tips for how to build a habit of gratitude

Having an attitude of gratitude is something we can all do. Evidence suggests that starting by making gathering and giving gratitude easy is best. Here are three tips for how you can begin building a habit of gratitude now.

Gratitude Tip #1: Make it easy

Have you got an app for that? is an app that makes getting started easy. I have used this app for a few years and found it helpful for building an attitude of gratitude. The app will send you a simple daily prompt asking you about what you are grateful for, and it stores your responses in a private online journal. What you record can be as simple as what comes to your mind or a purposeful reflection on something good that happened that day and why you felt good. I find the reminders the app sends of what I was grateful for from my journal very reinforcing and encouraging, and it also serves as a way for me to track my progress.

Gratitude Tip #2: Stop. Look. Go.

The following video presents how practicing gratitude begins by getting quiet, looking through our senses, and then taking the opportunity presented.

Gratitude Tip #3: Giving gratitude

Giving gratitude makes you happier. After listing what you are grateful for each day, take a few moments to practice giving gratitude. Not only will reflecting and journaling what you are thankful for make you happier but giving appreciation will multiply the positive effects on your emotions. Simply send a thank you note or, better yet, deliver the thank you note or say thank you in person.

How important do you think gratitude is for you and your team as you look ahead to what experts suggest will be another challenging new year, and what is the real gratitude challenge for you?


Adecco. (2021). Resetting normal: Defining the new era of work 2021 [PDF]. The Adecco Group.

APA. (2012). APA survey finds feeling valued at work linked to well-being and performance.

Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. (2016). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States [PDF]. Management Science.

Harvard Medical School. (2021). Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health Publishing.

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112-127.

The Gratefulness Team. (2021). What is Gratitude? A Network for Grateful Living

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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