What Makes Leaders Great

Do you have the missing link? When we survey participants in our seminars and ask, What are the characteristics of a great leader? The following are the most shared comments:

  • Has a clear positive vision of the future
  • Provides clear goals and strategic direction
  • Good communicator
  • Hires strong team members
  • Builds a great team
  • Defines clear goals and responsibilities
  • Values diversity and diversity of opinion
  • Able to solve big problems
  • Good mentor
  • Holds team members accountable

What seldom comes up is the important competency of being grateful for the contributions that others make. In reviewing our Benchmarks, the data tells us that the Best of the Best leaders and companies score higher on appreciating employees for their contributions and employees feeling adequately recognized. There is a strong personal benefit for the leader who consistently lets team member know he is grateful. Scientists have also found clear evidence that letting others know you are thankful and grateful for the contributions yields improved results for our health, relationships and teams.

This data makes sense. Although there are always employees who go around the organization telling everyone, “I don’t need no stinking recognition.” It has been my experience that the people who live by this line need the recognition more than anyone. They have learned to say they don’t need it for the lack of not getting positive feedback or feeling valued. Almost everyone has a deep seeded need to feel valued and appreciated. Knowing this, why don’t more leaders demonstrate their gratefulness by providing positive feedback and recognition?

Managers may not demonstrate their feeling of being grateful to employees for several reasons. Here are a few managers have shared with us:

  1. Since they are paid well and still have a job, this should be enough appreciation.
  2. If they provide positive feedback, the employee may not be motivated to maintain a continuous improvement philosophy.
  3. Since they don’t get positive feedback from their boss, why should they give it to others. Not providing positive feedback is in our culture.
  4. Low confidence or self-esteem. Although seldom mentioned, if managers do not feel positive and believe in the value of their worth and contributions, they find it difficult to provide positive feedback to others in the organization.

What is both neat and simple about gratitude is it takes little money. What is does take is heartfelt thought and action. Many leaders think about the contributions their team members make (think about it in the car on the way to work) but then take no action.

Here are seven ideas that leaders can take action to demonstrate to their team members they truly are grateful for their contributions.

  1. Say “thank you.” Our mother taught us this and as simple as it is, it is forgotten a lot at work. Thank you can be conveyed in person, email, a phone call or even a voice message. When it is genuine and heartfelt, it means something.
  2. Shake hands or give someone a high five. Combine shaking hands, a high five or nugs, a thank you becomes even more meaningful.
  3. Be specific: A thank you is nice. A thank you for something that is specific and significant is even better. Instead of telling a team member they do a great job with customers, customize it. You could tell the team member, “I am really grateful you are on our team. Ever since you joined our team, we have not received one complaint from the Acme Company. You are awesome!”
  4. Involve team members. When team members are involved in the decision making on projects or actions that impact their jobs, they know their contributions are valued and appreciated.
  5. Provide learning and growth opportunities. A study by the American Psychological Association with over 1,700 employees conducted in 2012, indicated that 70 percent of employees feel valued at work when they have opportunities for growth and development. Although it may be difficult to give someone a promotion, you can invest in their development through training and development, assignment to significant projects, cross-training and involving them in discussions involving innovation or continuous improvement.
  6. Do it today. This Thanksgiving, before you eat your Thanksgiving meal, let each person around the table know why you appreciate them and are grateful that they are in your life. We have done this in our family and it is a great way to start an awesome meal.
  7. Make a gratitude list. Each day or once a week, make a list of what others do that you are really grateful for their contribution. This works best when you do it for both your family and the team members in your professional life. You will find that, when you express gratitude, you have less stress at home and people at work will go out of their way to help you achieve your goals.

Taking the thought, time and action to express gratitude can prove great results. All the data tells us that the gratitude actions that great leaders take really do work. Think about it. Most likely, on the days you feel the very best about the contributions you make in this world is when someone took the time to express their gratitude to you. At the end of the day, this leadership competency is so simple. What we all have in common is the need to be valued and appreciated. What are you grateful for today? As Oscar Wilde once said: “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”

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