What we all want above all else is a deep and lasting joy that doesn’t depend on external circumstances. Gratitude is the catalyst for joy, for it allows us to see the good in every circumstance. It changes our attitudes, feelings and behaviours by changing our perception of events. What’s more, it brings out the best in people and increases workplace satisfaction. The importance of gratitude in leadership cannot be overstated.

Gratitude and mindfulness

Gratitude is the default state for mindful people who see the grace and perfection beyond life’s troubles. In truth, gratitude and mindfulness feed one another—the more mindful we become, the more grateful we feel, and vice versa. Gratitude also helps us to see through the madness of consumerism and materialism. Living with a deep, inner sense of satisfaction, we no longer feel the need to find comfort and happiness in external things.

A customer service director for a large hospital in New York explained how gratitude has benefitted him as a leader. He said, “When I live from a place of gratitude I am more mindful, present and focused with my team members. One very simple expression of gratitude that my team appreciates and keeps me grounded in reality is thanking them for showing up for work with a willing and positive attitude. I can easily imagine the bind my organisation would be in if employees failed to show and engage with in the positive spirit they do. So I am grateful and mindful of how much each employee adds value to and is critical to the organisation’s work and mission.”

He shared with me one especially meaningful encounter related to gratitude. “Recently, one of my team members told me that I am the best boss she’s ever had. She said, ‘You’re so thankful! Every email you write expresses appreciation. I’ve never had a boss with whom I am so fortunate to work!’ Honestly, her statement is very humbling. In fact, her words immediately lead me to soul-search for the many ways in which I could have expressed more gratitude and taken others for granted less often. It’s true that gratitude fosters more gratitude.”

Gratitude is a gift we give to others that always comes back to us in increased happiness. Put simply, showing gratitude makes us feel good.

Within organisations, gratitude fosters cooperation. Northeastern University researchers Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno conducted a study that showed that gratitude breeds gratitude. They brought a group of students together in a room to supposedly participate in a study, but before the students were called, their computers were sabotaged. The student would walk into the room, sit at the computer, realise that it was broken, and then another student would step forward and offer to help them fix it. The grateful students were then more likely to volunteer to help another person in experiments that followed, even if they did not know the person and the task was unrelated to what they were doing.

Leadership gratitude: Catalyst for recognition

For leaders, gratitude is the catalyst for recognition. It makes us constantly look for the good in people and feeds our desire to share our gratitude for a job well done. It is a light we carry with us that people are drawn to because they feel good about themselves when they are around us.