Giving thanks can make you a better leader and earn respect from employees. But what does being grateful mean for businesswomen, and how do you develop genuine appreciation?

Gratitude is an essential leadership skill for career women. Yet, despite its positive influence, appreciation is not common in America’s work culture. Survey research from 2017 found that many leaders don’t praise or give positive feedback [1]. But any leader can develop, practice, and profit from workplace appreciation.

The tips outlined in this article show how to improve leadership skills by expressing gratitude. But first, let’s examine why it’s so crucial in management roles.

Being Grateful Makes You a Better Leader

Studies found that leaders who express appreciation are more influential, respected, and happier. In a Glassdoor survey, 81% of employees said they would work harder for a grateful boss. Best of all, positive recognition is contagious. And research shows that a simple thank you has the power to motivate prosocial behavior [2][3][4]. 

Science: Grateful acts rewire brains and strengthen mind-body connections [5].

Observed Differences in Leadership Style by Gender

There’s a lot of gender-stereotypic expectations on the differences in male and female leaders. It’s not that one’s superior to the other; they’re just different. And while these stereotypes and gendered expectations can be destructive and limiting, it’s also important to recognize that the differences in the ways men and women lead can add significant value. 

In general, women lead in a transformational and interpersonally-oriented style. Men, though, adopt a more task-oriented strategy. Women leaders are also prone to employ a more participative democratic, less autocratic approach to men. And a 2009 study found that women endorse higher trait gratitude [6][7].
Many female bosses are recognized as good listeners and empathetic team players. So, why this reluctance to express gratitude?

A Fear of Gratitude?

Some women leaders have developed a point of view where gratitude is seen as a weakness that denies power. The perception that they’re too soft or they show too much gratitude; referred to as the “Goldilocks Dilemma.” Others worry about impostor syndrome (IS), a symptom that makes them feel fraudulent. Thus, being overly thankful plays into fears and insecurities that can hold back careers. But research shows us definite psychological advantages of workplace appreciation [8][9].

The solution, therefore, is to find the right balance. The rest of this piece explores the benefits of an appreciation plan and how to exploit it.
Before reviewing gratitude development for female leaders, let’s look at the science.

The Science Behind Your Grateful Mind


A 2018 white paper entitled The Science of Gratitude is an in-depth report on the power of gratitude [10]. There are four areas that most interest us here, namely:

  1. For the leader (individual benefits)
  2. For the group
  3. Positive effects on mental health
  4. Positive effects on physical health

But what benefit does each of those claims provide leaders and their organizations?

#1 Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective

Researchers found that expressing gratitude boosts happiness and positivity. Grateful leaders are more satisfied at work and less likely to suffer from burnout. Making gratitude an extremely useful practice as almost half of all workers report feeling burnout most or all of the time. And those who continuously practice gratitude develop wisdom, patience, and humility.

#2 Effects on Groups

When a team feels appreciated, job satisfaction increases along with stronger workplace relationships. And when that happens, groups become more engaged, effective and exhibit prosocial behaviors. Around 93% of participants in an APA Survey said feeling valued motivates them to do their best [11].
But remember, only to give thanks where it’s due. Your best approach to being grateful is to exercise quality, not quantity.

“If you change the way you look at things, the thinks you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

#3 Practicing Gratitude Affects Mental Health

The act of writing a simple gratitude list and counting one’s blessings improves optimism. You become more alert and awake and develop a positive mindset. Researchers found that grateful thinking also elevates mood. Plus, an appreciative mind eases the symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety [12][13][14].

#4 Grateful Thinking Benefits Physical Health

Practicing an attitude of thankfulness has profound benefits on physical well-being. It helps lower blood pressure, enhances the immune system, and aids in better sleep. A 2016 study suggests that a grateful mindset may even reduce heart failure risks [15].

Grateful Minds Lead to Happiness

A happy workplace is a pleasant, more productive environment. But gratitude is not a product of happiness; the opposite is true, as this diagram illustrates:


Proven Ways to Build Your Gratitude

Giving thanks—and meaning it—improves day-to-day morale in the workplace. And a content employee is more productive, which helps drive organizational success. The most influential managers are those who lead with indebtedness. For some leaders this is not a naturally-developed trait. But, like any other skill it can be grown and developed.

With a developed sense of genuine gratitude, you’re in a much better place to inspire your team. In fact, the best way to keep a grateful mindset is to share it with those around you.

Hold onto and Store Positive Experiences

The human brain finds it easier to latch onto and recall negative experiences. Likely, this function of our brains is to help us remember and learn from our mistakes, to avoid repeating them. Unfortunately that means our brains have a tendency to downplay the good things that happen to us, especially small positive experiences. 

The way to reverse this pattern is to be more mindful of positive happenings and to take them outside our minds. Keeping a gratitude list or journal is a simple yet highly effective tool for this purpose. Use it to write down life events you’re genuinely grateful for, before your mind compresses and minimizes them.

You can keep a daily journal if you like. However, many find that journaling two or three times a week is more beneficial. The point is to be intentional in recording your gratefulness, take your time and make it specific. 

A heartfelt thank you is the simplest yet most powerful means to convey genuine appreciation.

Be Specific

Try to zoom in on what you’re appreciative of and be specific. For example, it’s better to write “I’m grateful that my coworker gave me a ride to work while my car was in the shop” than “I’m grateful for my coworker.” Focus on depth over breadth as you compile your list. This exercise will be more meaningful with five detailed items over 20 superficial ones.

Get Personal

It’s okay to be grateful for things and occurrences, but focusing on people when building leadership gratitude is a more fruitful approach. For instance, rather than being thankful for meeting a strict deadline, be appreciative of the specific people on your team, their roles in making it happen, and who went above and beyond. Everyone has good points, so focus on those, and recognize their contribution and its effect on you.


Reflection is an excellent way to strengthen a grateful mind. The idea here is to look at your list and consider what it would be like without that blessing. It’s a game of “what if,” where the actual outcome is better than the potential outcome.

Take the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge

Consider the 30-day challenge below if you struggle with journaling or feel like you need bite-sized, easy-to-accomplish gratitude goals to start building your gratitude muscle. It’s a simple approach that asks you to express gratitude for people and things for 30 days. 

This leadership development plan is only an example. Feel free to adapt it as necessary, but don’t make a change that allows you to stay within your comfort zone.

Day 1
Don’t complain for one day
Say thank you to someone and mean it
Write down 3 things you’re grateful for
Smile several times today
Meditate for 10 minutes
Perform a random act of kindness
Spend 30+ minutes on self-care
Buy a small gift for someone you care about
Write 3 thank-you notes
Spend time outdoors with nature
Be grateful for your blessings
Write 3 things you love about your job
Be optimistic all day no matter what
List 5 things you love about being you
Give to a homeless person
Thank a team member for good work
Think of 5 things you’re grateful for before bedtime
Recognize 3 things you take for granted
Write a few positive words about your job
Commit to voluntary work for one day
Start the day with a grateful thought
Recognize the positive traits of colleagues
Write 3 positive things about your boss
Think about how someone helped you
Spend quality time with loved ones
Refrain from idle gossip
Compliment a stranger
Write down 5 blessings
Call someone you haven’t seen in a while
Day 30
Commit to a journal

Create a Workplace Culture of Gratitude

Leadership training is a continual process with no graduation. But, the more you practice gratefulness within your organization, the more natural it becomes in all areas of your life. And, the only way to feel grateful is to be grateful.

Use this sample 7-point checklist as your foundation:

  1. Remember to say thank you for a job well done
  2. Send hand-written thank you notes to show your appreciation
  3. Find ways to celebrate personal milestones
  4. Treat your team to a reward when they go the extra mile
  5. Present employee appreciation gift cards
  6. Listen more and welcome constructive feedback
  7. Organize periodic social events to bond and celebrate achievements

Add, subtract, and modify the list above to make it something that works for you and your team. And remember, thanks in moderation has more influence than thanking for the sake of it.

Continue Your Leadership Development with EWF International

The majority of most managers never receive formal leadership development training. EWF International provides a wide range of leadership development solutions for individuals and organizations. Our Emerging Leaders program help early- to mid-career women develop the leadership knowledge and skills to reach the next level of their career.

EWF’s Peer Advisory Forums for Executive Women, provide structured meetings full of executive women in non-compete industries to help each other grow and overcome the unique challenges facing women executives. 

And, our turnkey corporate programming provides an array of leadership development and DEI offerings to help you strengthen your organization from the inside with offerings from lunch-and-learns to full-scale leadership development programs. 

Keep Old Habits at Bay

The way to nurture your gratitude is with continued training and mindfulness. Get into the habit of zooming in on good things and holding onto the moments. Be open to new challenges at work, and listen to your team members. Finally, watch out for signs that suggest old habits may be creeping back into the workplace.
This last section underlines old behavioral patterns that suggest a return to old ways.

How Employees View Ungrateful Leaders — A Reminder


Few people complain directly to their boss if they’re unhappy in their job. But high staff turnover, bad atmosphere, sickness, and gossip are good indicators of a negative workplace. Ingratitude evokes negative emotions like resentment, envy, and depression. Leaders who fail to show their thanks are often seen as arrogant, vain, and over-demanding [16].

Remember, it doesn’t have to be like that! 

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