By CPA Samwel Baraka Ochieng
Have you ever considered how deeply a boss’s words of praise or criticism impact the team? As Charles Schwab, the esteemed founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation, aptly put it, the key to unlocking an individual’s capabilities lies in genuine appreciation and encouragement. This sentiment isn’t just the wisdom of a business mogul; data also supports it. In a study conducted in the first quarter of 2022, Bonusly surveyed 2,000 Americans, including employed professionals and active job seekers.
Their findings, published on their website, delved into the importance of appreciation within the broader scope of employee expectations and the pivotal role of peer relationships in fostering engagement. An alarming 46% of respondents revealed they had left a job due to feeling unappreciated. Even more compellingly, 65% confirmed that they would exert more effort if they discerned even the slightest indication that management—staff at the senior levels of the company—was noticing their contributions.
These compelling statistics emphasize the need for leaders to possess qualities beyond the conventional leadership attributes and the responsibility of providing supervision and guidance to their subordinates. Furthermore, they should be equipped with a diverse array of exceptional qualities and skills that directly contribute to the success of their teams. Among these attributes, gratitude is frequently overlooked.
However, incorporating gratitude into leadership dynamics can unleash transformative effects—deeply resonating with individuals, bolstering teams, and shaping organizational culture. Gratitude, though deceptively simple, possesses remarkable influence that can reshape leadership paradigms. In today’s dynamic leadership landscape, where decisions are scrutinized and actions are closely watched, gratitude acts as a transformative catalyst, igniting positive change across various dimensions. It extends beyond mere pleasantries, becoming integrated into the fabric of leadership practices and setting off a ripple effect that permeates every corner of an organization.
Gratitude, defined as the quality of being thankful for acts of kindness, help, or efforts, signifies a profound appreciation that recognizes and values individuals for their positive contributions. While it may appear to be the cheapest investment a leader can make on a team, it yields greater returns than is ever imagined within the lenses of the uttered words of gratitude. To illustrate this impact, let’s examine the distinct leadership styles of Jade and Jane. Jade is the epitome of a gratitude-driven leader. As the team leader of a marketing department, she’s acutely aware of the hard work put in by her team members. When she observes Alex’s tireless dedication to a particularly challenging project, she doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge his efforts. Upon successfully completing the project, Jade promptly sends a congratulatory email to the entire team, highlighting Alex’s exceptional contributions. Taking her leadership style to the next level, she goes the extra mile by arranging a one-on-one meeting with Alex, where she not only sincerely conveys her gratitude but also highlights his pivotal role in propelling the project to success. The acknowledgement serves a dual purpose: Not only does it bolster Alex’s morale, but it also sets a precedent for the entire team, fostering a culture where appreciation and motivation thrive. A gratitude-driven leader recognises and appreciates the achievements of their team members, understanding the profound impact of timely acknowledgement. In contrast, Jane’s leadership presents a cautionary tale, offering a contrasting example of a disengaged leader. Overseeing a sales team, Jane had every reason to celebrate when her team posted record-breaking results for the quarter. Yet, during the subsequent team meeting, Jane glossed over the collective achievements, focusing solely on the overall results without recognizing individual contributions. Obliviously, she swiftly transitioned to discussing upcoming challenges, making no effort to credit her team members for their recent successes. The team quickly noticed her oversight, leading to pervasive feelings of being overlooked and unappreciated. Consequently, the team’s morale plummets. Disillusioned, some team members even start questioning the value of their contributions, posing a potential threat to future team performance and cohesion. Leadership styles can significantly shape team dynamics and organizational culture. And, the stark contrast between two leaders—one who acknowledges their team and one who doesn’t—underscores the powerful impact of recognition on a team’s morale and performance.
The Significance of Jade’s Approach
Expressing ”thank you”—sincerely and wholeheartedly—not only feels good to the recipient but also to the person offering the gratitude; it strikes differently when it drops from the boss to a staff member several levels below in the hierarchy. Jade’s leadership style exemplifies the power of gratitude. As the team leader of a dynamic marketing department, she not only sees the hard work put in by her team members but also understands the significance of recognising their efforts. When Alex, a dedicated team member, poured his energy into a challenging project, Jade was quick to take notice. The successful culmination of the project was met with a well-crafted congratulatory email that highlighted Alex’s exceptional contributions, effectively illuminating his role as a linchpin of success. Nonetheless, Jade’s acknowledgement didn’t stop there. She went the extra mile by arranging a private meeting with Alex. In this one-on-one interaction, she conveyed her heartfelt appreciation for his dedication, underscoring how his unwavering commitment had played a pivotal role in the project’s triumphant outcome. Jade’s leadership embodies a culture of appreciation. Recognising Alex’s tireless dedication, she sent out a team-wide commendation, highlighting his invaluable contributions. Further personalising her gratitude in a one-on-one meeting, Jade didn’t just boost Alex’s morale; she set a precedent, showing the entire team the value placed on hard work and dedication.
Jane’s Oversight Erodes Team Morale
In an article on its website, Deloitte explores the impact of recognition programmes on modern organisations. Their findings reveal that companies with recognition programmes experienced a 14% increase in employee engagement, productivity, and performance. Jane’s leadership style paints a starkly different picture from that of Jade. While managing a sales team that had achieved record-breaking numbers for the quarter, she had an opportunity to harness the power of acknowledgement. However, during the subsequent team meeting, her approach was markedly disengaged. She neglected to acknowledge the individual contributions that collectively led to her remarkable achievements. Instead, she hurriedly skimmed over the details, focusing solely on the bottom-line results. This lack of recognition caused team morale to falter, as members felt undervalued and dismissed due to the absence of acknowledgement. Jane’s leadership presents a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of neglecting recognition. Despite her team’s record-breaking achievements, she glossed over their individual contributions. This oversight didn’t just diminish team enthusiasm; it fractured their once-collaborative spirit and eroded their collective commitment.
Impact on Organizational Culture: The Ripple Effect
In today’s landscape of human capital, visionary leaders and organisations aim to not only attract and retain top performers but also nurture organic growth and raise employee productivity. In an insightful article titled “The Role of Recognition: How to Incorporate Appreciation and Gratitude into Your Employee Well-Being Training Programme,” Corporate Wellness Magazine shed light on the essential nature of recognition as a fundamental human need. They emphasised that when employees receive acknowledgement for their contributions, it results in a palpable uplift in their morale and drive. Recognition doesn’t just serve as a token of appreciation; it’s a potent instrument for cultivating a positive work atmosphere and bolstering employee engagement.
The contrasting narratives illustrated by the two leaders have far-reaching effects on leadership practices. Jade’s gratitude-driven approach is a catalyst that fosters an environment where appreciation and motivation thrive. Her acknowledgement boosted individual morale and set a precedent for a culture that values and uplifts each team member. Conversely, Jane’s failure to acknowledge her team’s achievements created a culture of under-appreciation, leading to diminishing morale, declining cooperation, and threatening future successes. The narratives emphasise that leadership is not only about task delegation; it also impacts attitudes and emotions. Acknowledgement is not a formality but a powerful tool that shapes a team’s sense of purpose, unity, and motivation. Leaders should learn from these scenarios and understand that each act of appreciation shapes an organisation’s culture. Choosing to acknowledge isn’t just a gesture; it’s a pivotal leadership decision that can steer the course towards success or failure.
In summary, within the realm of leadership, acknowledging others has a significant impact that goes beyond mere words. Jade and Jane’s leadership styles demonstrate how a simple “thank you” can either foster a culture of appreciation or create an atmosphere of under-appreciation. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you say and what you do, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” This quote emphasises the importance of leadership in shaping emotions, unity, and the direction of an organisation’s culture. Gratitude plays a crucial role in the intricate symphony of leadership, with its impact resonating for years to come, influencing hearts, uplifting spirits, and crafting a legacy far beyond the immediate.
The writer is a member of ICPAK and a Leadership Enthusiast.
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