Reflecting on Gratitude Received at Home Makes You a Better Leader at Work

In an era where the lines between our professional and personal lives blur more each day, the quest for effective leadership takes on new dimensions. Gone are the days when leaders were viewed as unemotional executors, valued primarily for their ability to make strategic decisions and drive business outcomes. Today, as our research reveals, the essence of true prosocial leadership may very well originate from the warmth and familiarity of our own homes. Imagine beginning your day, not with the customary scan of an ever-demanding inbox, but with a quiet moment of reflection on a heartfelt “thank you” that you received from a loved one at home. In our research, we find that this simple act of reflection can make leaders more effective at work.

In a forthcoming study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, we conducted three daily field experiments involving 103 full-time managers from high schools, 116 leader-follower pairs from a variety of industries, and 109 leaders across different sectors. In the morning, before they started their workday – these leaders took a few minutes to reflect and write about a time when a family member expressed appreciation to them for something that they did at home. We urged these leaders to jot down a few sentences recalling what happened, what their loved one said, and how they felt in that particular moment. We did so because reflecting via writing prolongs the savoring and impact of positive experiences. We found that on days when leaders reflected on gratitude received from family members at home (compared to reflecting about more mundane things), they were more helpful and empowering toward their followers at work. Leaders were more prosocial toward their followers because they felt that they made a positive difference in the lives of their loved ones, which satisfied their basic psychological needs in ways that motivated them to support and empower their followers at work. 

Our findings show that leaders are not just defined by their roles at work but are deeply shaped by their personal lives as well. The affection and gratitude shared within the family can dramatically influence their professional conduct, particularly in nurturing and empowering their teams. Therefore, the key to more helpful, empowering, and effective leadership might just lie in the simple acts of appreciation experienced at home. Our research invites leaders to embrace a daily gratitude reflection, not as an added burden, but as a transformative practice to enhance their leadership.

Practical Recommendations for Leaders

Embrace a Daily Gratitude Reflection: We invite leaders to dedicate a few tranquil minutes each morning to reminisce on gratitude received by family members. Leaders who intentionally recognize and cherish these moments are better equipped to foster a work environment that is both supportive and empowering.

Incorporate Gratitude into Leadership Training: We urge organizations to design interventions or training programs that emphasize the importance of gratitude reflections for leaders. These initiatives can significantly enhance leaders’ personal satisfaction and spur the cultivation of a positive, collaborative workplace culture.

Cultivate a Culture of Gratitude: Organizations may benefit from fostering an environment where expressing gratitude is the norm, not the exception. This cultural shift can begin with leaders themselves, who, by demonstrating gratitude towards their teams, can set the stage for a reciprocal atmosphere of appreciation throughout the organization.

Express Gratitude to Your Loved Ones: Openly and frequently expressing gratitude to your loved ones at home can create a ripple effect, extending the bounds of positivity from the home into the professional domain. Such gestures of appreciation not only fortify familial ties but also empower leaders to translate this positive energy into their interactions at work, thereby elevating team performance.

By embracing the practice of gratitude reflection, leaders can forge a work environment that is not only more positive and supportive but also more empowering, leading to superior team outcomes. Both organizations and families play a pivotal role in nurturing this virtuous cycle of gratitude, underscoring the profound interconnectedness between our personal and professional lives, and charting a course towards more holistic and humane leadership in our contemporary world.

The research, “The Benefits of Reflecting on Gratitude Received at Home for Leaders at Work: Insights from Three Field Experiments,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.