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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mike Patterson

The Magnitude of Gratitude at Work

Three Leadership Behaviors that Keep Your Team Engaged while Striving for More

Forward Focused

Whether you call them key performance indicators (KPIs), quarterly goals, sales forecasts, sprints, or project milestones, the nature of work in organizations is forward looking and focused on what else needs to happen to create or maintain success. For the business that wants to stay in business, there is never an end. There is always more though.

The more is usually—or at least should be—in service of the organization’s purpose. Purpose is the way in which the organization is making the world a better place or solving somebody’s problem. When problems are solved or lives made better, people pay. The system works and we keep going.

This bedrock of the free market system necessitates this forward looking, continue to solve people’s problems faster, more efficiently, and in novel ways approach. You also need to do it better, faster, or cheaper than your competitors who are trying to take your market share and potentially, your livelihood. In short, you can’t afford to be satisfied.

Many are energized by this competitive approach, while others are exhausted by the never enough, what have you done for me lately, mindset. Clients tell me that they’re always running hard at work, but there is never a finish line.

Do More & Do Better

Leaders and teams must recognize the tension of this workplace reality: It’s necessary to do more and do it better than before, but you can’t ask people to sprint forever. When you do, it creates a disconnect destined to leave people frustrated, exhausted, and eventually disengaged.

This is where the power of gratitude serves us well. But before I go any farther, let me address that logical elephant in the room. Isn’t the essence of gratitude a focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have? Gratitude gurus push us to find contentment in the moment, yet we’ve just established that a business that rests on its laurels isn’t likely to be in business for long. How can these seemingly dichotomous demands ever be reconciled?

Like much of life, it’s a matter of timing. In fact, I will argue that there is both a reason and a season to use the power of gratitude to refresh yourself and your team. As evidence, here are three behaviors that can help you leverage the magnitude of gratitude for the greater good:

1. Pause regularly to celebrate success.

In a thriving enterprise, we shouldn’t be satisfied with past performance; instead, we must always work to make it better. Enough will likely never be enough. True. But let’s agree that enough might be enough for today. There is a season for everything. That means that there should be a season—or at least a moment—to pause and reflect on what you and your team have accomplished in the recent past before launching into whatever is next. Whether it’s a raucous celebration or quiet contemplation, we should focus on how far we’ve come. And even if your most recent season wasn’t so great, focus on the progress you made, what you learned, and who added value.

2. Focus on purpose.

When you’ve been running hard on a project for weeks on end, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Here’s where you might reconnect with your purpose. Why does the team or organization exist? Who are we fighting for? In many organizations, it’s easy to see the noble purpose of the work—healthcare workers who alleviate suffering or restore people to health, first responders who save lives, scientists searching for ways to do less harm to the planet, etc. In other settings, the nobility of the work may be less clear, but with some effort, you’re likely to find it.

The oft repeated line from the comedy classic, The Blues Brothers, makes the point. The fact that Jake and Elwood were “on a mission from God” to save the orphanage was what kept them going through difficult circumstances. Of course, most of us won’t ever be involved in police chases, car crashes, or “putting the band back together,” but if we pause to think about it, we’re all on some sort of important mission. We just need to be reminded of what it is from time-to-time.

3. Express your gratitude for the people on your team by affirming who they are and what they have contributed.

When you’re busy, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of others—or at least it is for me. That’s why it’s so important to be intentional about expressing your gratitude to the key people who made good things happen. In other words, go beyond the “I appreciate you, man…” cliché we often hear. There is nothing wrong with the words, I’m simply suggesting that you take it a step further: I appreciate you because…and then proceed to explain in relevant detail why you appreciate them.

A great example of this was modeled in an organization where my wife worked. The tradition in her department was to have a monthly luncheon to honor everyone who had a birthday falling in that month. Sometimes they would go out to a restaurant, other times they would have it catered at the office, and most often, it was simply a potluck. The food didn’t matter. What mattered was that each person being celebrated was affirmed or applauded by others the team. Oftentimes, comments were made about the person’s character or strengths, but specific ways in which they helped on a project or had done something kind for someone else was also fair game. It was the highlight of everyone’s month and created a highly engaged team.

None of these leadership behaviors are difficult or costly. No special training is required. It is, however, necessary to be thankful for what you have accomplished so far, focused on the greater purpose of the work, and vocal about the contributions of the people who made it all happen. It’s the magnitude of gratitude that can propel us forward even when we’re tired and there’s no finish line in sight.

Dr. Mike Patterson is an author, speaker, and master facilitator who helps leaders and teams communicate, collaborate, and manage conflict more effectively. He is the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places, and he teaches in the doctoral programs at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology and California Baptist University.

© 2021 Michael L. Patterson, Ed.D.

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