Paul Raggio | A Grateful Leader

Paul Raggio

It’s that time of year.  Our day-to-day pace at the workplace slows down as our holiday shopping increases.  We look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas with family and friends, and for many of us, we take time to express gratitude to those who have brought joy into our lives.  However, for some, this time of year may be the most stressful.  If your business is seasonal and November and December are high production months, times can be agitated.   Emotions often run high and what may be an intended goodwill gesture turns out as a perceived snub. 

Expressing gratitude is one of a leader’s most effective tools to engender loyalty. Appreciation generates the emotional connection followers seek and quickly becomes contagious. Followers model the behavior of their leaders, and emoting gratitude genuinely creates a positive organizational climate.  A climate where teammates want to perform their best for the team and their motivation is not to let their teammates down. 

Expressing gratitude is also a way to disarm a confrontationist. Opposing parties take their corners and table compromise.  Negotiations come to a halt until one of the parties gestures gratitude.  The negotiation door opens, and a win-win compromise evolves.  I’ve seen this happen hundreds of times.  Even the most recalcitrant will bend their will and seek compromise to a genuinely gracious opponent. 

However, being a grateful leader does not mean compromising standards.  Instead, it means inspiring your team to achieve and sustain standards under the most demanding conditions and then thanking them for their efforts to accomplish them.  Followers always want to know what success means and how they can contribute to the team’s overall effort.   

This concept is often lost when doling out end-of-year bonuses.  You want to see grumbling in the workplace, give everyone a bonus with no basis other than the boss’s blanket goodwill gesture.  The hardest-working and most productive employees view it as a snub, and the least-working and underperforming employees expect it.  It confuses and creates team division.  Bosses are bewildered why their employees don’t appreciate their gracious gesture and don’t realize they poisoned the organizational climate because of their blanket, undifferentiated effort. 

Gratitude must be genuine, not contrived, and requires work on the leader’s part to evaluate their team’s performance throughout the year against known standards.  If genuine, people respond positively, both performers and non-performers.  If contrived, people see it for what it is. An empty gesture meant to benefit the boss.  

One of the best leadership habits I learned and practiced is always open and close encounters by expressing gratitude to people.  Gratitude is a way to create an environment where all parties acknowledge agreement on standards, not relinquish nor diminish them.    Saying this is easy, and doing it, however, is very hard.  The hard part surfaces when you perceive the person or group you’re addressing to be an adversary, disinterested, or you feel aggrieved, let down, or distrustful.  Nevertheless, graciousness is disarming, especially for those expecting a much different demeanor and tone, opening the door for meaningful, results-oriented communication while maintaining and reinforcing your standards. 

Finally, leaders expressing gratitude should be a year-round practice, generous in breadth, genuine in scope, and personal in delivery.  Don’t wait for the holidays to say thanks to a team member who performed a task outstandingly.  Let them and their coworkers know, without waiting, how much you appreciate their efforts and articulate the positive results on the organization.  Make this practice a habit, and your organizational climate will soar!  This is how you lead, think, plan, and act.  Now, let’s get after it! 

I wish all of you loyal readers a wonderful and blessed holiday season and thank you for your interest and valuable feedback on my writings.  Happy holidays!   

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].    

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