If a leader fails to understand the role gratitude plays in motivating and supporting their team, then I submit that they should be fired.Why? Because if they can't use the least expensive motivational tool there is, then how can I expect them to handle any other resources responsibly?
Gratitude in leadership is easy to get right, and expensive to get wrong. Under-appreciated people perform below their potential (at best) and simply leave (at worst). I don't buy the chest-thumping excuse that gratitude-stingy leaders sometimes dish out: "we're all here to work hard so why should I say thanks?" or "they get paid to work hard, what more do they want?". Man up and say thank you. It's not that hard.
Here are a few of the basics to ensure team members feel the appreciation they deserve:
1. Put some thought into it. Give specific feedback on what you appreciate and why it matters. One of the reasons to say thank you is to reinforce positive behaviors you want to see again.
2. Show you mean it with a personal touch. Writing a generic 'thanks' email is one thing, but giving employees a gift specific to their life or experience is another. You can make it personal by showing some insight into what they have overcome to achieve something. For example, if they struggle with public speaking and still manage to do a great job presenting in a team meeting, then that probably deserves some personalized positive reinforcement.
3. Shout it out. If someone does something amazing, don't just tell them. Tell everyone. Receiving a shout-out publicly can be a tremendous source of pride for a hard working team member. I like to give recognition that I can picture the team member telling their family about.
4. Don't wait. Give positive feedback right when it's earned, not against some arbitrary performance review timeline. If they did something amazing today, say thanks today. Call them on your way home and let them know you noticed.
The reality is that the more senior the position you hold, the more weight your words of appreciation can carry. Conversely, the more damage you can do when you take great work for granted. I read about a company leader once who called 10 people every day to thank them for something specific that was brought to his attention. That's a decent time commitment for a Chief Executive, but a remarkable example to set for others.
Set a great example yourself today. Say thanks to those who work hard to support you and your company. Get creative and get connected with your own people. Just as you depend on their hard work, they rely on your feedback and gratitude to reach their full potential. That's real leadership and it's not hard to execute.