3 Ways Gratitude Creates Leadership Latitude

You know being intentionally grateful will help you feel better and live better but it also plays a significant role in leading others better.  This post explores some of the science behind the function of gratitude, 3 ways you may not have considered how people LEAD YOU (including dinner hosts) and how you can do the same to ignite your week ahead.

At times our own light goes out and isThe annual Thanksgiving holiday in the United States carves out a day to dedicate thankful reflection for all the blessings in our lives.  Even though we may sometimes feel grateful once the holiday is over (if your family drives you a little crazy), there is something about the anticipation of the get-together, the smell of pumpkin pie, the post turkey coma and the week long leftovers every year that warms our hearts and sometimes expands our bellies every year.  In the context of your business leadership, creating this type of space for gratitude throughout the year, you can also expand the latitude of your influence while warming the hearts of the people you lead.

We often hear about how leaders like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh “delivers happiness” through his leadership or how “Google’s Way” is giving employees napping pods and fresh sushi around the clock.  This is awesome but from the high level examination we find in web articles, books and even detailed case studies, it is easy to assume that leaders should just focus on making employees “happy” to be the best in the world.  However, this is just what it “looks” like from the outside.  Much more is going on under the happy iceburg tip we see at the surface.  Gratitude plays a big part so let’s first explore gratitude in relation to happiness and joy a bit deeper.

iceburg Take a minute to seriously think about what makes you grateful right now…don’t worry, I’ll wait…

What came to mind? Did you think of your friends?  Family?  The kindness of a stranger?  Your home?  The work you do?  Now, think about where your attention went.  Regardless of what you are grateful for, did you notice that you first focused within…“Hmm…what am I grateful for…?”  But then your mind expanded to include other people or things …”what has another person done for me that I appreciate right now? What do I “have” or “do” and really enjoy…”?

Gratitude is one of our most powerful mental tools.  Gratitude facilitates focus on present, positive connections between people, places and things.  Positive emotions broaden awareness and resources (Fredrickson, 2001) and gratitude specifically expands awareness of beneficial relationships.  It allows you to make stronger mental connections between you and something or someone external to you.  This matters because it reminds and reinforces that that we belong and are therefore safe.  This help us become more willing to explore who we are and what the world offers.  It opens up our interest to new possibilities.  This is especially important in business and leadership because it is foundational to creativity and engagement and therefore high performing innovative cultures.

When researchers Sara Algoe and Jonathan Haidt (2009) explored this function of gratitude empirically, they asked participants to recall an incident that made them feel either joy, gratitude or a neutral feeling.  They found that joy answers from study subjects were described as personal experience that elicited joy for their subjective point of view.  However, when they were asked to recall a grateful incident, similar to what you did a moment ago, they also described their experience but included the benefactor’s perspective.

To demonstrate what this looks like, here is how I would answer if you asked what makes me feel joyful and what makes me feel grateful.

Joy – I am joyful when I see my kids smiling and playing together

Gratitude - I am grateful for my kids being on the earth and in my life because they bring me joy.

2014-11-02 18.54.43 As it does for you, gratitude expands my perspective to include the meaning I assign to other people, places or things.

When grateful, I reflect on the joy I feel when I see my kids happily playing but I also consider how they as individuals are external from me yet increase my experience of feeling joy in my life.  When we are feeling grateful, our attention naturally moves from “you= you and me=me” to “you and me = us.”

Sara Algoe, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill coined the term find-remind-bind (2013) to describe the function of gratitude.   She concludes that gratitude takes people through this series of cognitive steps leading to the important binding function with other people.  When we find reasons to be grateful or are reminded of why we are grateful, we feel more closely bound as a cohesive unit with the people who contribute to our well-being.  This functional process of gratitude extends naturally to leadership.

Recent studies, including my own research, have shown that positive emotions and in particular gratitude facilitate “goal integration” or “goal contagion ” which means the internal adoption of a goal external to us.   This is a huge factor in effectively leading other human beings because it facilitates focus and unity.  This type of connection between people is why gratitude fuels performance and innovation growth.   (You can read more about it in the expanded report)

whitetablettransparentbg I started exploring these types of relationships in leadership more formally when I used to host morale related events at Microsoft years ago.  Hosting an event creates space for finding, reminding and binding people.  The host or hostess is leading something for a purpose.  Whether it is a product launch, a birthday party or a holiday, a event host has a reason for holding the event and leads you through an experience toward that purpose just like any effective project or company leader.

For example, my family celebrates Thanksgiving and while I help, I am grateful that my mother in law hosting each year.  The preparation and shopping I don’t mind but the cooking and cleaning are not my strong suits or areas of interest, especially with 2 kids under 5 years old.  She creates a space for us to eat, drink and be merry…a space to find connection, remind us of connection and bind our family connection.  She creates a space for our human needs to be met for the shared purpose of celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.  For her leadership, I am grateful because it allows me to balance my energy resources while still contributing and participating in Thanksgiving.

In ancient times, connecting over a meal was a celebratory ritual of our shared connections.  This remains true today yet its origins can be less obvious.  People are social animals.  We need people to help us hunt and gather to protect the tribe and we are grateful for their support because it allows us to survive and thrive.

In business, we need each other’s products and services such as food, fresh water and shelter to survive and thrive.  Our “needs” now include many products and services like electricity, monetary exchange, clothes, homes, and of course internet and cell service!  We evolved the ways we help each other and also how we stay connected to meet our expanded needs.  Phones and apps like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter capture so much attention because they expand how we can find, remind and bind with each other and therefore more effectively survive and thrive.

This psychological red thread is important to understand in modern business.  As leaders, we must bind people together in order to successfully fulfill and innovate upon our products and services in a very noisy interconnected world that easily pulls the attention of employees and customers away from your business goals every second of the day.

Much deeper than “happy,” you can utilize gratitude to strengthen the cohesion of the tribe you lead in these 3 ways:

Find ways to meet others needs  

When you meet the real needs of others (what they actually need/not what you think they need), they are truly grateful and the positive find-remind-bind cycle begins.  Look and listen to find needs that are underserved and then take action to meet the needs you can help fill.  This could include removing obstacles or giving resources when needed.

Remind people of meaning

Share why you are grateful for people in your team.  Include why their service and the role you play together in the world as a unit serves the needs of others.  Create and clarify why things matter to you and the greater good to help remind people why things personally matter to them and the greater good of your business.

Bind through consistent practice  

Finding ways to serve and reminding of meaning consistently strengthens your bond.  Lit Up Leadership’s Tribalignition solution helps you do this in a very targeted, natural and simple way without needing to hunt and gather solo. TribALIGNition logo But doing things like clarifying shared values, celebrating milestones or personally reaching out just to check in on personal or professional needs will bring you closer.  This connection naturally encourages them to bring you their very best work.

Three Bonus Tips – Here are 3 additional ways to strengthen your leadership through being connected with us.

  1. Find Ways to Meet Needs Now - For 5 specific , step by step ways to ignite your tribe in just 5 days (you can even start this Thanksgiving!), download our free 40 page Fire Starter Field Guide.
  2. Remind Yourself & Others of What Matters to You – What tips do you have to find, remind and bind people you lead? Reflect and share what this sparked for you on twitter @mabaumgarten and share this article with people who matter to you. This also matters to us by connecting with more evolutionary leaders like you!
  3. Bind and Band Together – If you are new here,  join the Lit Up Leadership Tribe free! We are evolving leadership together and need your brilliance to ignite the world and business.

To your expanded latitude with gratitude,

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Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: The “other-praising” emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(2). 105-127.

Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 455-469.

Baumgarten, M. (2013). Integrating success: Merging individual goals with organizational purpose to enhance perceived levels of happiness and performance

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.

Jia, L., Tong, E. M. W., & Lee, L. N. (2014). Psychological “gel” to bind individuals’ goal pursuit: Gratitude facilitates goal contagion. Emotion, 14(4), 748-760 whitetablettransparentbg

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