Gratitude for Leaders in a Hurry

5 ways to express appreciation, and retain your best people

While seated on a park bench beside her husband of 50 years, the elderly Dutch wife asks him for a divorce. Stunned, he asks her why.

“We’ve been married for 50 years, and you never tell me you love me.”

He responds “Remember when I said ‘I love you’ on our wedding day? Well, if anything changes, I’ll get back to you.”

How many of us take our marketing teams for granted, too? Are they on the brink of divorcing our company? Do we even know?

In our hurried culture, it’s easy to relegate our gratitude practice to a 4-day weekend in November. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you think gratitude is too touchy-feely, think again. As the Amazon HQ2 announcement descended like a drone in Northern Virginia, I sensed the anxiety levels rise among existing regional employers. They have valid concerns about the level of employee poaching that could happen in the coming decade (yes, decade).

And it should concern them. Business Insider reports that the typical salary of the 25,000 new positions averages between $115,000 and $140,000. Smaller, fast-growth companies and government agencies may not be able to compete against this cash-rich behemoth.

Here’s the reality. Most of us leave our jobs because of a rift with our direct supervisor, not because of a 10%-20% pay lift. That is especially true for those of us who lead purpose-driven lives, and select our work allies based on shared values.

In my experience working with high performing leaders, I have learned that expressing sincere gratitude is one of the most underrated methods to show you care about your team. These are my favorite strategies.

1. Only show it when you mean it.

In the mid-1990s, one of my relatives worked for a software firm in San Diego. In the quest for better financial results, the founders hired a high-profile CEO and returned to their R&D roots.

The CEO started every social event and team gathering with excessive praise. Everyone was “wonderful” and their financial performance was “fantastic.” It was insincere, artificial. He lasted 15 months after failing to deliver the results that the Board and investors expected. Few trusted his hyperbolic remarks.

Be specific with the praise you deliver. “Great job” doesn’t carry weight.

2. Share inspiration with the team.

Send them passages from philosophers, poets (such as Mary Oliver and John O’Donohue), and the Stoics (Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Heraclitus are a good start).

You can also download a daily aphorism from  In a recent Gratefulness post, my friend Chip Conley muses on gratitude in Silicon Valley (no, that is not an oxymoron). He expresses gratitude during his life inflection points, including career crisis and transition. Today, Conley advises the co-founders of Airbnb and has become the pied piper of Modern Elders across the globe.

3. Build a gratitude moment into your meetings.

In lieu of staring at your phone or laptop, turn them off and make eye contact. Ask each person to show thanks to someone within or outside the organization.

If the recipient is in the room, ask them to make eye contact while thanking them.

This may bring some people to tears—and that’s okay. When I thanked a male friend for being great listener and wise beyond their 32 years, he thought I was hitting on him! He never receives this recognition from his co-workers or boss, let alone his family.

If your colleagues want to express thanks to someone outside the room, ask them to deliver a handwritten note to them within the next 48 hours. You can buy personalized, affordable and elegant note cards here.

4. Kick away the keyboard.

Announcing someone’s success over an email or as a line item on a meeting agenda are insufficient gestures. Schedule a one-on-one conversation with the recipient. Tell them the value they are bringing to the workplace. Highlight their unique talent and thank them for the personal and professional sacrifices they made. Be specific.

5. Feel good at 5 (pm)

I recently started the habit of writing my thank you notes at 5 pm—during the end of my workday. It lifts my spirits and sets the tone for the evening. Thank you notes are making a comeback. So why not start the tradition at your company? And it’s less taxing than joining your colleague over drinks. You’ll pleasantly surprise them.

Is your team a match made in heaven? Not always. But an attitude of gratitude will last you a lifetime and keep you out of Dutch divorce court.

P.S. Want to know how high performing marketing leaders build loyal teams and allies? Visit our LinkedIn Learning course, “The Effective CMO.” Download your free sample courses here.

Check out these related posts:

6 Radical Steps to Build Resilience

Bonus Video: 7 Mindful Marketing Tips

Make Resilience Your “New Normal”

Copyright 2018, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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