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Leading with Gratitude

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. —Melody Beattie”

I write and speak a lot about our award-winning culture and how important it is to attracting/retaining top talent and building high-performance teams. Culture is critical as you manage your teams during a crisis. A Culture Model consists of our Mission, Vision, Behaviors, and Principles. Panasonic’s founder, Konosuke Matsushita, explained the most important intent of our Culture Model. He said “People before products”. Preaching about putting people before products is easy when times are good but it gets a lot more difficult to adhere to when things get rough. A true test of whether the culture model is a paper culture (posted on a wall somewhere) or is embedded into the DNA of the organization is how the business continuity strategies are driven and acted upon, with the Culture Model as a guidepost.

How does Gratitude fit into the process?

In this article, I want to specifically focus on one of our seven principles, Gratitude. So how does Gratitude fit into the process of managing your staff in a time of crisis? Like most leaders these days, I have been working through some of the most unbelievable business continuity issues of my career. In the past, I have managed through serious business impacts such as 9/11 and the 2008 Economic Crash. A lot of false comparisons are being made between the 2008 Economic Crash and the current COVID-19 Black Swan event. But one commonality between the two is that both caused fear, anxiety, confusion, and chaos. Knowing this, it is imperative that you use the science of Gratitude to help yourself and your team work through these potentially debilitating issues to push toward the new normal and keep the business moving forward. Yes, I said use the science of Gratitude.

The Science Behind Gratitude:

Arguably, you could say that all of the seven principles above are key to operating in this new normal and they are. But if you have to start somewhere, I think you should start with Gratitude. As I mentioned, there is a lot of science behind the idea of how an Attitude of Gratitude can help bring peace for today and create a vision for tomorrow. Alex Kolb, Ph.D., writes in his book, The Upward Spiral: “there’s a Gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.” With the shelter-in-place and work–from-home situation many of us are facing, there is no better time to figure out how we find more ways to feel more connected to other people.

In a article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude”, contributor, Linda Roszak Burton states: “Whether expressing Gratitude for what’s good in life or showing Gratitude to someone who has helped us at work, neural circuitry in our brain (stem) releases dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good! And, because it feels good, we want more. It triggers positive emotions, we feel optimistic, and it fosters camaraderie. It also drives prosocial behaviors. Ah-ha! Put that under how to enhance performance, because dopamine has been linked to intrinsic motivation in goal accomplishment, whether academic, personal, or professional.” Linda explains the science and gives you all the leadership reasons in the world to focus on an Attitude of Gratitude to help lead your teams shift their mindsets to the positive.

Not only is Gratitude a powerful leadership and performance management tool, but it also has other amazing benefits. Robert A. Emmons, is a Ph.D. scholar, at the University of California, Davis. Emmons studied the impact of Gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others. Emmons found that Gratitude comes with many benefits. I listed a few below:

· Stronger immune systems.

· Fewer aches and pains.

· Feel more alert, alive, and awake.

· Feel more joy, optimism, happiness, and pleasure.

· Be more helpful, generous, and compassionate.

· Be more forgiving.

5 Steps to Lead with Gratitude:

Gratitude can play a tremendous role in helping you move your team forward by improving their physical and emotional health, bringing some order to chaos, helping them reach individual performance goals, and even strengthening their engagement with the organization and each other. Let me offer five steps to start leading with an Attitude of Gratitude:

1. Start your day by saying Thank you. It’s physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time. There are so many things you should be thankful for that you shouldn’t have an issue coming up with specific things to mention.

2. Have a regular virtual happy hour or a team meeting with a cultural purpose. With the cameras on, build in some non-work related conversations like “What has been one silver lining of this whole COVID 19 thing for each of you?” or “What act of kindness or generosity have you seen that stands out during this time?” Let people talk about and hear all of the positive things that are happening as a result of this crazy situation.

3. Share with your team any efforts your organization is taking to support local charities, people in need, hospitals, first responders, etc. People love to hear about how their organization is giving back to the community.

4. Show sincere recognition. Thank your team members individually and as a group for all the work that is being done and the flexibility people are showing. Change is hard so recognizing their efforts and accomplishments is important.

5. Focus on the future. Leaders need to talk about how things will look like in 6 months or a year. Your team needs to hear that this will pass and getting them involved to work on the plan is critical. It helps them get out of the moment of uncertainty and focus on where the organization is going.

The biggest reason to focus on Gratitude as a leadership principle is to ensure you are helping your team focus on the positive and work through some of the most difficult personal challenges they will ever face. Put your people before products. Help guide them into an Attitude of Gratitude. As Melody Beattie stated above: “Help your teams see how Gratitude turns chaos into order, confusion into clarity, makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and most importantly creates a vision for tomorrow”.

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