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Gratitude & Authentic Leadership

There are leaders who enjoy short-term success because of relentless focus on the advancement of self. They are routinely architecting their network with deliberate intent, mapping out interim milestones to achieving their next desired role and self-promoting. They determine where to engage and invest based on a carefully calibrated professional compass. In some cases, these managers believe they can “go at it alone,” celebrating their self-driven success and achievements. You are probably thinking of some specific managers right now and probably not thinking of them very fondly!

Then there are leaders, that while still driven and professionally motivated, progress by focusing on doing the right thing and achieving success by creating followership and developing others – believing that they will be rewarded for their contributions and in helping others succeed with them – without regard for individual self-promotion or relentless career management. Think of someone you know who fits this category and how you feel about working for/having worked for them.

And, of course, there are many people that fall somewhere along this spectrum.

Success Through Others

While I’m generally not a fan of superlatives, as business leaders, we never achieve success on our own (period). Long-term success in leadership requires a degree of drive but absolute recognition of the leader’s role as part of a team. There are numerous mentors, advisors, colleagues and employees (followers) who believe in us, subscribe to our vision and help make it a reality through their efforts every day. The best leaders – those who people speak longingly of working for again – recognize this and place an emphasis on recognition and gratitude as core to leadership.

Gratitude in Leadership

With employees, these leaders are generous with their time and insight – they provide counsel, guidance and perspective to their superiors, peers and those within the organization. Now don’t confuse “generous” with “nice.” The best leaders do the difficult work too -- they are invested enough that they are willing to ask the hard questions, have the difficult conversations, make the tough call, hold people accountable and provide honest feedback.

Importantly, they naturally find ways to express gratitude, beyond compensation and promotions, whether it be handwritten notes, visible acknowledgement to their superiors, recognition among peers, special assignments, candid discussions, advocacy or other professional opportunities. Do you do this when warranted? Do you do this often enough?

Over the years, I’ve learned that the trick with gratitude is to ensure it maintains its value. It must be authentic and earned. That is, it is not about frequency, everyone getting a trophy or necessarily effort exerted, or hours invested. Rather, it is about recognizing achievement of meaningful business results in a manner consistent with the organization’s culture and ethos – particularly those achievements exceeding expectations.

Gratitude in Professional Development

As an additional dimension, these leaders recognize the value of mentors, advisors and coaches, and the role they play in professional development and success. These trusted advisors carve out time, among other demands for their attention, to develop others.

Leaders engaging with mentors or coaches build a connection, develop a level of trust that affords candor, genuinely listen, consider what they’ve heard, ask questions and strive to apply what they’ve learned. These behaviors – trust, listening, engaging, candor, adapting – demonstrate gratitude to that mentor. And the deliberate “thanks for your counsel” never hurts either.

Being Thankful

As a trusted advisor, I am very grateful for the opportunity to advance my clients’ success – for the trust they place in me and the collaboration we pursue for achieving their professional objectives. There have been numerous people for whom I’m thankful for as they have been instrumental to my own professional success.

As you consider all that you are thankful for in the Thanksgiving season, consider how gratitude factors into your leadership. Take time to reflect on all those who have been instrumental in your professional success – mentors, managers, employees, colleagues, family, friends – and consider being deliberate in expressing your gratitude. ‘Tis the season for gratitude, right? For authentic leaders, ‘tis the season – all year long.

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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at

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