How to Lead with Gratitude

It’s easy to talk about enhancing performance, improving efficiency and being a more influential leader. So why don’t we do it more?

Maybe it is because leadership books often feel stale. It’s often a same-idea, different-author experience. Leadership is a set of abilities, and it can be learned and improved on a regular basis. But we have to seek that improvement.

Does boredom keep you from scheduling time on a regular basis to grow your leadership skills?

THE QUICK SUMMARYLeading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Workers want and need to know their work is appreciated. New research shows that gratitude boosts employee engagement, reduces turnover, and leads team members to express more gratitude to one another—strengthening team bonds. Studies have also shown that gratitude is beneficial for those expressing it and is one of the most powerful variables in predicting a person’s overall well-being—above money, health, and optimism. 

Despite these benefits, few executives effectively utilize this simple tool. In fact, new research reveals “people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else.” What accounts for the staggering chasm between awareness of gratitude’s benefits and the failure of so many leaders to do it—or do it well? Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton call this the gratitude gap. In Leading with Gratitude, they identify the widespread and pernicious myths about managing others that cause leaders to withhold thanks.

Gostick and Elton also introduce eight simple ways managers can show employees they are valued. They supplement their insights and advice with stories of how many of today’s most successful leaders successfully incorporated gratitude into their leadership styles.

Showing gratitude isn’t just about being nice, it’s about being smart – really smart – and it’s a skill that everyone can easily learn.


For leaders wanting to retain great talent and better engage their people, the solution might be right under their noses. Showing gratitude to employees is the easiest, fastest, most inexpensive way to boost performance.

The best leaders positively engage with their teams consistently. But while practicing gratitude is easy, it is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied tools of management. That’s a shame, because it is also one of the single most critical skills for managers to master if they want to enhance their team’s performance and develop their leadership credibility.

The impact of gratitude needs to start within you, radiate outward, and lift up everyone on your team.

Leading with gratitude is not only about giving credit where credit is due, it’s actually knowing where it is due.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Seeing: Ways leaders can ensure they’ll spot great work being done.

Solicit and Act on Input – This is not new, but few leaders do it. Even more rare is to see leaders follow through on suggestions. Every day workers will face challenges in their work, and each of these problems can spark ideas for improvements.

Assume Positive Intent – Positive intent coaching steps include: 1) Pick up the phone or go see the person if at all possible; 2) gather all the facts before making decisions; 3) take a forward-looking approach; 4) pay close attention to all communication to avoid passive-aggressive language and set a positive tone.

Walk in Their Shoes – One of the great enablers of authentic gratitude is developing empathy for others. The best way to be truly empathetic is to actually walk in their shoes.

Look for Small Wins – Every small step toward an organization’s goals and values is worthy of acknowledgement. This ongoing, cumulative effect of small outcomes can be significant.

Expressing: Ways leaders voice and show their thanks.

Give It Now, Give It Often, Don’t Be Afraid – By checking in with people and helping them see they’ve made appreciable progress each day, leaders can boost energy levels considerably.

Tailor to the Individual – Smart leaders use the knowledge of individual motivators to tailor expressions of gratitude to each team member.

Reinforce Core Values – Expressions of gratitude, when connected to actions that are in line with the company or team core values, offer powerful opportunities to communicate why these grand ideals are so important.

Make It Peer-to-Peer – When employees are grateful to each other, they affirm positive concepts typically valued in their colleagues, such as trustworthiness, dependability, and talent.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results


Use the following ideas from authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton in each of the eight areas as a springboard for increasing how you lead your team with gratitude. Review the list below and select three of the axioms to push toward implementation. For each of the three, answer these questions: 

  • What difference could implementing this idea make this week? Conceive it!
  • What is one action or activity currently missing but required for success? Create it! 
  • What will be an indication of success in this effort, as measured by the impact on those around me? Celebrate it!
  • When will I review the results and select another axiom? Calendar it!

Solicit and Act on Input

  • Avoid the over-ask – Asking for ideas out of your team’s purview or asking too many questions at once.
  • Ensure specificity fits – Asking the right question of the right people in the right way.
  • If ideas aren’t viable, openly discuss why.

Assume Positive Intent

  • Creativity requires trust.
  • Use any mistakes as a chance to teach rather than an opportunity to punish.
  • Be aware of factors beyond your team’s control.

Walk in Their Shoes

  • Take time to ask your team about difficulties they may be encountering.
  • Coach yourself to regularly ask your team about how they’re approaching their work and if they could share recent accomplishments.
  • Radical candor has to come with deep empathy and a desire to help others.

Look for Small Wins

  • Notice and express appreciation for small-scale efforts as much as major achievements.
  • Identify top performers and let them know the difference they are making.
  • Encourage team members to give shout-outs to each other.

Give It Now, Give It Often, Don’t Be Afraid

  • Mark important contributions through day-to-day recognition.
  • Positive reinforcement triggers reward signals in the brain, reinforcing the action and making it more likely to be repeated.
  • Frequent gratitude gives team members perspective that any setbacks aren’t the end of the world.

Tailor to the Individual

  • Is the achievement a step toward living your values?
  • Is the achievement a one-time, larger step that reinforces your values?
  • Is the achievement an ongoing, above-and-beyond demonstration of your values in action?

Reinforce Core Values

  • Team members want to know 1) who you profess to be (your brand) and 2) do you live up to what you profess (your culture).
  • Help your team understand common values-driven conflicts and provide ways to deal with them.
  • Help your team understand and respect the values, even if they may not completely agree with them.

Make It Peer-to-Peer

  • In the best teams, employees feel free to speak up, share ideas, and know they can ask others for help.
  • Peer recognition can help build bonds outside of immediate teams, break down silos, and help workers in different locations feel connected to one another.
  • Online systems to facilitate peer-to-peer gratitude.

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.