January 12, 2021

Art of Appreciation

Leadership Development | Team Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie

During the pandemic, in our work as coaches, we have seen a huge increase in burnout, people struggling with isolation, polarization, fear and grief.  We have also seen some amazing leaders working on the frontlines inspiring, motivating and giving hope in the most difficult of circumstances.

These leaders all have one thing in common: the practice of appreciation. Not just saying “thank you,” though that is a wonderful thing to do, but truly using appreciation as a way of life.

Personal benefits of expressing appreciation

We all know the many tangible benefits of appreciation in healthcare, from the perspective of those on the receiving end of appreciation: Increased retention, positive culture change and increased productivity.

However, expressing appreciation to others also has tremendous internal benefits that we often underestimate. Benefits include:

  • Improvement of mental and physical wellbeing. Over the last several decades, researchers have proven the correlation and impact that appreciation has on our mental and physical health. They have seen more vitality, energy, enthusiasm, and improved cognition.  Through research we are finding that those who feel grateful often show a reduction in cortisol levels, better cardiac functioning, and increased resilience during negative experiences.
  • Increased innovation and engagement. Neuroscience research shows us appreciation leads to increased serotonin and dopamine levels. When we work out of the energy of appreciation, we grow more innovative and engaged in our work. With the heightened mood, we also experience more joy in our work.
Maximizing the benefits of gratitude

How you express gratitude matters.

Over the years, leaders have been taught of the value of thank-you notes, recognition ceremonies, employee-of-the-month rituals, gift cards and many other ways to express appreciation for a job well done. All of these ways are valuable, however, to truly gain the internal and external benefits of appreciation, a leader needs to fully feel gratitude.

For example, if we are told to write 10 thank-you cards a month and it becomes a task without the feeling of appreciation, we have lost the value of the impact and it becomes another item on our to-do list. Not only do we as leaders feel it as a burden, but those receiving the appreciation sense insincerity, and our gesture creates the opposite results of what we intended. The key ingredient in giving appreciation is to fully FEEL appreciation.

Feeling and disseminating gratitude

Below are some of the compelling, winsome ways leaders are expressing gratitude during the pandemic:

  • Focusing on finding things to appreciate. One hospital CEO I am working with says the first thing he does as he enters the hospital each morning is to identify 5 things to appreciate. Although there are 100 things that are stressful and feel out of sorts, by focusing on these 5 things he is able to be more innovative and creative in addressing the 100 things.
  • Individualizing appreciation. A physician leader I worked with focuses on finding one new thing about each team member and writes it down. Over the holidays she was able to provide each of her team members a gift that was unusual and spoke directly to them. One of her team members received a candle made in Hawaii since she was supposed to go on vacation there and was unable to go due to Covid.
  • Be specific. When you say “thank you,” be specific about what you are thankful for. For example, “I am so thankful for you picking up that extra shift when I know your daughter really wanted you home for the evening,” instead of “thank you for working so hard.”  By being specific, it helps connect to the person and the heart.
  • Share good traits with others. When you see good traits in an individual, share them with others. If you notice something positive, acknowledge and celebrate it openly.
  • Give your undivided attention. Put your phone away, meet in person if able, maintain eye contact, be fully present in the moment.  This one act shows others how much they are appreciated.
  • Share yourself with others. If you like to cook, cook for others. If you like to do crafts, gift the crafts you make to others. Use your unique gifts and personality to uplift others.

What’s one thing you can do today to cultivate gratitude and share it with someone?

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About the author

Cheryl Foss, MSW

Cheryl Foss, MSW, a MEDI Executive Coach, has over 20 years of Leadership Development, Team Development, Strategy Development, Organization Design, and Change Management experience.

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