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Leadership and the Importance of Saying Thanks

Leadership and the Importance of Saying Thanks

Written by Dr. Joel Domingo

Of the many descriptors that people associate with good leaders—proficient, charismatic, intelligent, compassionate, etc. there is one that people rarely use—thankful. When was the last time you thought of a leader who demonstrated or even led with thankfulness.

Thankfulness, which can be thought of as actions and gratitude, which is associated with attitudes are both generally understood within a context of good behavior and polite social norms. However, when put into the perspective of being an effective leader, they are powerful concepts.

Researchers of leadership have long explored the qualities of a “virtuous” or “real” leader. One approach, known as “authentic leadership” starts with questions of how can leaders be more genuine and lead from a place of conviction. A question commonly explored in this approach is, “How can leaders lead from a place that demonstrates their commitment and service to their people?”

These ideas highlight the need for leaders to be purposeful, relational, and centered on the belief of the talents and skills of others. When leaders demonstrate a belief in people, positive effects occur including employees that are more engaged and creative (Chaudhary & Panda, 2018), and are motivated to go beyond to help others (Cottrill, Lopez, & Hoffman, 2014). Central to this belief in people is developing and demonstrating thankfulness and gratitude for those in the organization.

Gratitude can be motivating, inspiring, and even empowering to others. Consider when you were personally thanked by a leader or someone you looked up to. What did that word of thanks and encouragement do for you? Did it transform or encourage you?

The way leaders demonstrate gratitude is not about simple gestures and platitudes but requires a level of intentionality (and creativity) that when practiced, can expand a leader’s ability to influence others and bring out the best in them. Leading with intentionality is something that leadership authors Kouzes and Posner (2017) call “Encouraging the Heart.” In their book, The Leadership Challenge, they outline several principles to consider when encouraging others. Each tie into gratitude. Here are some of my favorites:

Leadership at its heart is about people and relationship. As leaders, the simple act of thanking others is something that cannot be overlooked and can be one of life’s most powerful motivators. Albert Schweitzer once said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.”


Dr. Joel Domingo is Associate Professor in the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle and leads the Doctor of Education in Leadership program.


Chaudhary, R., & Panda, C. (2018). Authentic leadership and creativity. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 67(9), 2071-2088. doi:10.1108/IJPPM-02-2018-0082

Cottrill, K., Lopez, P. D., & Hoffman, C. C. (2014). How authentic leadership and inclusion benefit organizations. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 33(3), 275-292. doi: 10.1108/EDI-05-2012-0041

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Published April 5, 2019