Gratitude increases engagement, but only if you’re doing it right

How to show gratitude as a leader

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It’s well-known that displaying gratitude for your team members’ hard work is a powerful way to increase engagement. But there’s a lot more to gratitude than just saying ‘thanks’.

Engagement is an issue that shows up a lot in the leadership programmes I facilitate with leaders.

“I struggle with a lack of engagement in my team” is a common concern.

So here’s what happened in a recent leadership programme where we started to define what engagement meant, and the various elements of engagement.

One of the elements we focused on was gratitude. One leader shared how she made the effort to thank her team daily. But wasn’t noticing any change in motivation or engagement. She therefore struggled to see how gratitude played a part in improving relationships or engaging with her team.

Showing gratitude – saying “thanks” isn’t enough

As a coach, the best way I can help is to encourage a leader to reflect on their own behaviour and leadership practice. So we dug a little deeper and acted out the scene of how my client expressed her gratitude.

We started with a team member walking past the leader and making a comment similar to ‘bye’ or ‘enjoy your evening’. This prompted the leader to say, “thanks for today, really appreciate it”.

As a group, we shared our thoughts on how the team member may have felt, and whether we felt it would change their motivation or engagement at all.

I could certainly relate to this interaction.

I remember being in a job where I didn’t have any contact with my Head of Service all day. I went into work, delivered what was expected and interacted positively with people. And every night on my way home, I’d walk past her office, and await her first words of the day. ‘Thanks Andrea!’

As I walked away, I would utter sarcastically in my mind, “Thanks for what? You have no idea what I’ve done today, how I engaged with people, or how I added value.”

This might seem like a negative attitude to have, but I felt it was in response to a meaningless thanks.

The group explored what this meant for both the leaders and team members. This led to a realisation that a surface level thanks was merely that. A surface level thanks, with no meaning or depth.

What are you thanking them for?

To encourage the leader to start thinking about how to turn things around, we explored how she might express her gratitude in a heartfelt and authentic way.

Rather than offering a surface level, “Thanks for today,” we looked at how a leader can share what they are specifically grateful for. For example:

  • the effort a team member put into a task
  • how they interacted with someone
  • how they resolved an issue
  • how they helped someone
  • how they contributed to a project
  • how their work impacted on the leader, customers or other members of the team.

We then looked at the benefits of being specific with an authentic thanks, and how this was more important than how often you showed gratitude.

We explored how adapting your gratitude was essential. And how showing a thought-out, authentic thanks was more important than a habitual surface-level thanks every day.

So showing gratitude is important, but it will only increase engagement if you take care to acknowledge what a team member is doing well. However, when you switch from a generalised thanks to considered, authentic gratitude, you’ll find it helps to build trust and appreciation and leads to a stronger, more engaged team.

Time for you – make one small change this week

I’m challenging you to make one change this week to show more gratitude with your team.

The change I most recommend?

Share what you’re specifically grateful for.

It really is one of the best ways that makes a difference in my client’s leadership practice.


Want to increase the engagement in your team?

Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.

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You can’t be a great leader, if you’re not a great you.

Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.

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