Need more trust? Use gratitude to build a stronger team.

by Aug 4, 2022Culture, Insights, Leadership

As leaders, the phrase “employee engagement and retention” is repeated often. So often that I would argue that we get lost in the slogan and the formal programs or initiatives that happen, forgetting about a simple action that we can do to grow it: show gratitude.

Think about the last time someone expressed gratitude for something you did for them. Maybe they sent you a handwritten thank-you card for a gift you gave them, or bought you lunch to express their thanks. Hopefully you have an example, and you remember the so-called “warm and fuzzy” feeling it produced. Those are special moments.

But maybe you are more familiar with “leadership is lonely” place. Maybe all your examples are complaints from your team, urgent requests from your leader, and peers who are so busy that ‘thank you’ is rare because we are all just “busy doing our jobs.”

For the two examples above, which would you want more of? Hopefully it’s the first! The truth is that any behavior you want to be part of your culture starts with you as the leader.

Now let me ask you a question. When was the last time you expressed gratitude to someone else in one of those ways?

The ability to regularly express gratitude is a necessary skill for any effective leader. Really, it’s important for everyone! In fact, scientific studies support the idea that this expression is most effective when it’s from our peers, tangible, unexpected, and personal.

Today I want to talk about some of the ways you can express gratitude to enhance personal connections, build relationships, and build trust. I would argue that these three outcomes keep people from changing jobs and increase the occurrence of “How can I help?”

Need a reason for kindness? It’s supported by science!

When we provide our team members with encouragement, science shows a huge boost of oxytocin (sometimes called the “love hormone”) to the brain. It helps us to form stronger bonds and attachments to the people in our lives, making us feel more connected. Those stronger connections lead to stronger teams. For you as a leader, oxytocin is shown to be a key ingredient to trusting someone. As a leader, do you need more trust in your team? Here are a few simple tips to help you do that.

Send a personal note.

Sure, you could send an email saying, “Thanks for your help on that project!” Do you want to compete with the dozens of other daily messages vying for that person’s attention? They might see it, or they might miss it altogether. I can almost guarantee they won’t print that out and display it on their desk the way they would with a card. That’s right, we’re talking old-school. Handwritten, signed, addressed with a stamp, sent through the mail or dropped off in a mailbox. 

Never underestimate the impact a handwritten thank-you card can have on a relationship and how someone views you. I remember reading the results of a study a few years back finding that about 80% of personal notes are kept for at least 12 months after they’re received. In a world where only 0.3% of the mail we receive is personally addressed to us, a handwritten thank-you note is precious and deeply impactful.

Give them a gift.

I have a couple of key questions I’ve learned to ask when onboarding a new person to my team. “What rewards do you most appreciate?” “What’s your favorite restaurant?” “What’s your favorite food?” (here is a link to a free copy of my Team Member Fact Sheet) In their answers are usually ideas for a simple gift that means something. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but a small gift can go a long way when showing that you’re grateful. Make it personal and tailored to them and their interests and they’ll absolutely appreciate it.

I will even go so far as to send a vendor who went above and beyond a $50 bill or gift card to “celebrate themselves” with a friend. “Cash, Scott? Really?” Yes, really! A great vendor is a partner, and think about the value they bring by going above and beyond for you?

Recognize them publicly.

In EOS we create space with weekly and quarterly rhythms (meetings) that provide ample opportunities to recognize your team, your peers, and even your own leader. Every time you gather with a group the first thing on the agenda should be “Thank you’s to share.”

The science supports the action, and the budget also supports it. It is simple and free to recognize a team member that made a great sale, went above and beyond to fix a problem, or went the extra mile to deliver a product on-time.

Call to action: Do you want to be a Great leader?

When we teach leadership using the LMA model in EOS, we share two assumptions about all of the leaders before we talk through what great leaders do:

1. You genuinely care about your people.

2. You want to be a great leader.

“Caring about your people” is something we all feel, but our people measure that by what we do. Hopefully this gave you some good ideas about how you could show it.

Let me ask the same question that started this: When was the last time you expressed gratitude to someone else in one of those ways?

Here’s your assignment. Make a list of the people on your direct team, your peers on the leadership team, and your own boss. Then list the last time you expressed gratitude to them and what you did. Circle the ones where there is no answer or the answer is more than 30 days ago. Your assignment is to fix that and to never allow it to go past 30 days. Great leaders have this habit and the retention, passion, and energy in their teams reflect it.

Let me finish with one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes. I actually made this into a card (see how below) because I love it so much:

“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Become a leader that focuses on generating oxytocin, and the rest will follow.

My three favorite places to get a cool personalized card:

Search by your favorite theme – Landscapes, Maya Angelou, diversity, wildlife, sunsets. Etsy is full of artists and you will be blown away by your options.

Your Local Gallery

Many communities have a gallery where local artists sell things and they usually have some very cool cards. If you are ever in Marquette, Michigan check out Zero Degrees Gallery. I spend $50 every time I visit!

Moo allows you to design your own with your favorite quote or image. They have some great paper stock and it allows you to really make it personal for you!

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