March 13, 2020
We are living in a world today where we are waking up every day to new levels of uncertainty with the spread of the coronavirus. We are waking up to how interconnected and interdependent we really are. Fear sets in for many of us. At the same time, leaders around the world are leaning into change, learning how to quickly adapt to disruption and ambiguity. In this context, I sat down with Chester Elton, co-author of the book Leading with Gratitude to talk about how gratitude and appreciation can help grow well-being, productivity and resilience.
Elton is a best-selling author of multiple books (with his co-author Adrian Gostick) and one of today’s most influential voices in workplace trends. Their data (based on almost one million engagement surveys) shows that the difference between a good leader and an extraordinary leader is soft skills, not functional skills. One of the most important differentiators they found was appreciation. In our discussion, Elton spoke about the transformative experience of interviewing extraordinary leaders like former Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Gary Ridge (CEO of WD-40) who lead through gratitude and inspiration. All these leaders express gratitude for the challenging times – for the opportunity to develop new perspective and grow through the challenges.
In these extraordinary times, we need extraordinary leaders. Elton’s book shows us how to grow our capacity to lead with gratitude.
Here is an excerpt from our interview.
Henna Inam: Why is leading with gratitude particularly important in today’s disruptive times?
Chester Elton: When there is so much disruption it is easy to focus constantly on the negative. Agreed things need to get done. The issue can be that with the focus always on the negative you wear people out. There is a need to continue to focus on a lot of good things going on as well, to give your people hope and encouragement. Nothing does that better than simple acts of gratitude.
Inam: Gratitude is a great value. Does it have bottom line impact?
Elton: No question! One of the myths we debunk is that fear is the best motivator. Here are the numbers:
37% of people say they work harder if they fear losing their job.
38% say they work harder when the boss is demanding.
But…81% of working adults say they work harder when the boss shows appreciation for their work.
Inam: What gets in the way of expressing gratitude despite all the positive results associated with it?
Elton: In our book we debunk many myths around why leaders don’t lead with gratitude: No time. It’s all about compensation. People just need too much praise these days. These are all poor excuses.
I don’t have time is the weakest excuse. The fact is that the best leaders we studied took only about 2% of their work week (or about an hour of their time) to express gratitude.
Inam: Why are we stingy with gratitude?
Elton: Many leaders believe that if they show too much gratitude they are going to be perceived as weak. They assume that people will take advantage of them, or want a raise. I think Ken Chenault the recently retired CEO of AmEx said it best: “This view of ‘I want to be very stingy with gratitude’ gets confused to mean I’m not being demanding . It’s the opposite. You can be demanding and bestow gratitude very often and be authentic .”
You can hold people accountable and still express sincere gratitude.
Inam: What is your advice about making gratitude a habit?
Elton: A wonderful way to make gratitude a habit is to create “triggers” as reminders. One leader we know puts 10 pennies in his left pocket every day and sets a goal to have ten positive interactions with his people every day, keeping track by moving one coin from his left pocket to his right pocket as he goes.
Others write handwritten notes on a regular basis.
We have leaders that will start every team meeting asking for at least 5 good things that are going on with the team and ending the gathering asking if someone wants to thank another member of the team for their help.
There are two key words in making gratitude a habit. You need to be “Intentional” and “Disciplined.”
Inam: How do we create cultures where gratitude is a way of doing business? Does it have to start at the top?
Elton: The leader sets the tone. The way she leads gives everyone else permission to do the same.
When you get everyone expressing gratitude on a regular basis, not just the leaders, that’s when you have a culture of gratitude.
Inam: What’s the connection between gratitude and other positive emotions? Does gratitude have an impact on well-being and resilience, particularly in stressful times?
Elton: Great question, and the answer is yes! Studies have been done on gratitude journals and the positive impact is remarkable. Here is a link (below) for the data from wonderful universities that prove the point.
Inam: We are increasingly in an interconnected world which requires collaboration. Are there any studies that show the correlation between gratitude and collaboration?
Elton: I don’t know of any specific research. I do know that when you have teams that have a culture of gratitude you have much more psychological safety. Google pointed that as the number one factor on their most innovative teams. Any Edmonson of Harvard said this of psychological safety: “A climate in which the focus can be on productive discussion that enables early prevention of problems & the accomplishment of shared goals because people are less focused on self-protection.” A culture of gratitude is the best way I know of to increase that safety and spur collaboration.
Chester Elton ended with story about his father from whom he learned, “Be good to everyone. You don’t know who is having a tough day.”
I was inspired from my conversation with Elton and I hope you too will find your own practice to express gratitude for the extraordinary people in your life during these extraordinary times.