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Grateful Leadership: A Tool to Build Engagement

By Joanna Durand, Citi Managing Director, GPMO Head, CPMC/SEPG Chair

On June 9, I visited the International Institute for Learning (IIL), to film a segment on Grateful Leadership, with Judy Umlas. Judy, a Senior Vice President at IIL, is an expert on the concept of Grateful Leadership. In fact, she literally wrote the book on it, titled, as you might expect, Grateful Leadership.

We sat down for a few minutes to discuss Grateful Leadership.

What is Grateful Leadership?

On page 9 of her book, Judy introduces the concept of Grateful Leadership by saying the following: “I believe we are on the verge of creating the next wave of vision, inspiration, workability and success in leadership, which will turn many current ideas and philosophies of leadership upside down: Grateful Leadership.”

Judy’s Grateful Leadership model refutes former models calling for employees to be grateful to their leader (the “just be thankful you have a job” line of reasoning), pointing out that Grateful Leaders will realize much more success by having engaged employees. Judy goes on to say on page 9, “Grateful Leaders are those who see, recognize, and express appreciation for their employees’ and other stakeholders contributions and for their passionate engagement, on an ongoing basis.” She continues on page 11, “By creating a culture of appreciation… in which people truly feel valued, these leaders motivate their followers to strive for continuous improvement and always greater results.

Isn’t this the core of what leaders want?

Employee loyalty is tied to feeling respected and validated, and people are more likely to continue working every day in a place where they are part of a fundamental practice of recognizing and acknowledging one another’s value. Conversely, if we do not practice grateful leadership, while we might not lose people right away, people will lose interest and start looking elsewhere if they feel that they are not acknowledged and validated.

It’s Not Just for Managers

One does not need to be a manager to lead, and one does not need to be organizationally at the forefront to be a leader. The tenets of Grateful Leadership are useful and applicable for all sorts of leaders, including those of us who are parents, and those of us who need to interact with others regularly.

The Practical Applications of Grateful Leadership

In my role, I have the opportunity to put Grateful Leadership concepts into practice every day. A few of the ways I lead by these concepts and practice them with my team include:

  • Making an effort to meet as many team members in person as I can
  • Implementing changes as a result of employee feedback to improve employee experience
  • Encouraging people on the team to nominate others for awards, and dedicating time in our quarterly team meetings to formal and informal recognition
  • Sending personal thank-you messages and other forms of recognition to individuals on the team when they go above and beyond

It Isn’t Always Easy Being a Grateful Leader

One of the topics Judy touched upon in our interview was that it’s not always easy to be a Grateful Leader. Here are two major reasons why:

  • Grateful Leadership (and grateful behavior) takes a willingness to be vulnerable. For a manager, this could look like someone wanting a raise when you offer praise. For a non-manager, the vulnerability is required because you are saying something personal about yourself, and any personal revelation takes strength.
  • Grateful Leadership takes commitment. It needs to be deliberately practiced or, in the pressure of our individual roles, we can get swept up – and swept away from practicing acknowledgement/ validation. We must avoid the trap of saying we are too busy, or we just forgot.

Move Forward into Grateful Leadership

Like mastering any new skill, or beginning any new and deliberate practice, Grateful Leadership takes discipline. Start small, by acknowledging someone in the moment when it occurs to you to do so. Or, as Judy suggests, acknowledge someone you wouldn’t normally think to acknowledge. In either case, choose something personal that you believe will resonate with the person you are acknowledging.

I look forward to many more conversations with Judy, and I am grateful to IIL for being an excellent partner over the years.

Originally posted on Citi’s internal enterprise social media platform.

Joanna Durand is a Managing Director at Citi; she has been with Citi for more than eight years, having joined in February 2007. In August 2009, Joanna was named Citi’s Head of Global Program Management. Joanna has over 20 years of diverse leadership experience in global financial services organizations.

Joanna chairs the Citi Program Management Council and Software Engineering Process Governance (CPMC-SEPG), a formally chartered enterprise-wide governing body focusing on Enterprise PM Domain Governance.  She also heads the Global Program Management Office (GPMO),  which acts as the execution arm of the CPMC/SEPG.

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