The Grateful Leader

Here is a simple idea to enhance your capacity for leadership using gratitude. Gratitude is often misinterpreted as a sign of weakness — especially in business. For instance, the majority of my clients at some point tell me that they are nervous about hiring me because they were not sure how their people would respond to the idea of gratitude, but it does not take long for them to realize that gratitude can seriously improve their ability to lead others and to achieve results.

I remember one of my first projects as a young engineer. I was in charge and the crew assigned to the project included two very experienced technicians. They knew much more about the challenge we faced than I did. In fact, if it were not for these two men, we would not have successfully completed the project. Even though I relied on their experience, there were several times when I did not take their advice because it was wrong; it went against the laws of physical science. I did not tell them they were wrong. On the contrary, I was quite diplomatic but at these times they became very difficult to work with.

In getting to know them during the job, I discovered why they became so defensive and challenging. They related a story of a previous boss who called them into the office one day. One of them described what happened, “He had a bucket of water on his table. He told me to put both of my hands into the bucket and then take them out. He then asked me, ‘What difference do you see?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ Then he looked at us both and said, ‘Exactly. And that is the difference I will see in this shop if you leave.’”

These two were not the easiest people to work with but they deserved better than being treated as a pair of hands whose sole purpose is to get a job done. They were not appreciated. They knew this, which was apparent by how they acted at work. Nobody wants to be treated disrespectfully and although it is not that people set out to intentionally use others, it happens.

As a leader, you get to choose how you treat others. There is an idea that I call the Grateful Leader that can improve how you lead. This does not replace the leadership philosophies that you already successfully use. Instead, incorporate this idea into your leadership style. Quite simply, as a Grateful Leader, you see your role as one that has been entrusted to you by “the many” who went before you. And in gratitude, you want to pass on your role of leadership in a condition better than it was given to you.

Grateful Leaders achieve results and treat people with dignity and respect. They differentiate between their responsibility as a leader and the people they lead in a very significant, but subtle way.

Possess the responsibility of leadership

As a Grateful Leader, you are responsible not out of duty or obligation, but rather true appreciation and recognition that your role is a gift entrusted to you. Grateful Leaders do not blame others but own this responsibility and use it wisely to achieve their desired results. They care for their responsibility like something sacred, knowing that their leadership engenders greater meaning in the world.

Be in relation to those you lead

Grateful Leaders do not possess the teams they lead, instead they are a part of the team. They see their team as a group of individuals worthy of dignity and respect. When the Grateful Leader says, “My team,” he or she does not mean it as when you say, “My car.” Rather, they mean it as when you say, “My family.” You own your car, you do not own your family; you are in relation to your family. This has a huge impact on how the leader treats others. The Grateful Leader acknowledges that every person, even the difficult to deal with person, has intrinsic value. They do not treat people as objects or simply as a means for the leader to achieve a goal.

No rocket science here, just common sense. Unfortunately this common sense can easily be forgotten under the pressure to produce or when distracted by a deadline.

Whether it is written on paper or in the minds of those you lead, those who look to you for leadership are writing your leadership story. What legacy do you want leave?

Steve Foran
Steve Foran is an electrical engineer with an MBA that has been transformed into a Gratitude Engineer. Steve specializes in helping organizations overcome the attitudes of entitlement and complacency that somehow seem to creep into workplaces. Through his research, speaking, writing and consulting he helps organizations build healthier workplace cultures. You can find out more about Steve and his work at or you may contact him through LinkedIn: or Twitter @ForanSteve