The grateful CEO: Unleashing hidden potential in early-stage companies

“When I booked my first call, beyond congratulating me, my manager wanted to learn about the strategy I’d implemented. This made me feel valuable; like he really believed in my skills.” 


“It’s no secret that a CEO is busy – time is their most valuable resource. So receiving a handwritten thank you note from mine to acknowledge the hard work I had put into a very important company function meant so much to me. She could have walked by my desk and said thank you, or just assumed it was part of my job to deliver and said nothing. Instead, she took the time to express gratitude in a way that I knew came from the heart. I still have the card all these years later.” 


“One of the most unexpected and impactful times someone made me feel appreciated was when it was for something so seemingly insignificant, I didn’t think anyone would ever notice it. I’d just finished unloading the office dishwasher and a colleague came up to me and thanked me for doing it, saying they’d noticed I ended up doing it a lot. That was nice – I don’t actually mind the mindless break on the days I have time to do it – but they then offered to say something to everyone and set up a log. To me, this showed their gratitude more than anything, because it demonstrated that they saw my time as valuable enough to address something as ‘uncool’ as a dishwasher log.” 


“When asked about a time gratitude has impacted my career, my initial response felt like I answered the question wrong. I didn’t think of a time I was outwardly acknowledged for something or a time I received a gift, but rather I thought of a time that I was the grateful one – thanking someone else. As a manager, I was eligible to nominate an employee of the month at our team luncheon. I shared the story of an experience I had watching my team member go above and beyond and thanked him for his commitment to our customers. He won that month and proudly displayed his award in his office. What strikes me, is I felt better having the chance to celebrate him than I did when I received the award years prior. Sometimes gratitude is about being the giver.”

Practice what you preach

The above are quotes from our team members when they answered the  following question:

“Has a leader ever made you feel particularly appreciated at work? Please describe what they did to make you feel appreciated and in turn, how that feeling impacted your approach to your work going forward.”

At One TEAM we believe in the importance of gratitude. Unfortunately, while we may acknowledge its importance, we haven’t done a great job of making it a consistent habit that we practice. What better time to start the habit than November? “[insert kitschy gratitude quote here]” 

Yes our feeds are packed with thankfulness and let’s allow it to serve as a reminder of why we should be practicing gratitude all year long. 

Every habit starts with a first step and over the past few weeks, we have been chatting with our team about how gratitude has personally affected their careers. In addition to the personal stories above, here is what we learned: 

  1. Thoughtful appreciation feels good and provides great motivation for the receiver, more so than a mindless token of appreciation (we’re looking at you, Amazon gift card). 
  2. Practicing gratitude consistently and sharing it directly with the person you appreciate may feel awkward at first but has benefits far greater than simply writing what you’re grateful for and keeping it to yourself.
  3. Displays of gratitude show up in many different forms (it may not even include the  words ‘thank you’) and are often seemingly small to the giver, but their impact is long-lasting to the receiver.

Allow us to share a bit more detail about each of these learnings.

Learning 1 & 2: Give so that you can receive

Studies show that while both giving and receiving gratitude have positive benefits, being the receiver leads to stronger results. But having to ask someone to show you gratitude kinda kills the benefit. It’s like your parents telling you, “YOU WILL have FUN on this road trip.” So how can you make sure you’re receiving the appreciation you need (besides dropping hefty passive-aggressive hints, like sharing this article with a colleague)? 

Show up authentically – and give it away without the expectation that it will be returned. It is okay to be a person who thrives when your work is appreciated, studies show we all are, even if some don’t care to admit it. Your team needs to see and feel its importance through your behavior. This is why we talk so much about investing in the relationship. That investment shows up in the form of taking the time to appreciate others thoughtfully with no strings attached. Give it away without the expectation that it will be returned. 

Why? People will likely return it. And if they don’t, you have already reaped the benefit of having given it. 

Learning 3: The science of gratitude at a neurological level

There are science-based benefits on the brain linked to thankfulness, like improved mood and motivation. These personal benefits translate into company benefits, as demonstrated by stats like “Happy workers are 13% more productive” and “Employees who are motivated at work take 10 times fewer sick days.” 

What is actually happening in the brain – as explained in this video by Christina Costa, a psychologist who studies well-being, who chose to practice gratitude after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Activating these pathways benefits us physically, psychologically, and socially. In turn, those personal benefits can impact the people around us. In this way, gratitude can build stronger, better-performing teams.

A trio of benefits 

Psychological benefits – a happier you. Gratitude leads to positive emotions and thoughts. People are more aware and awake, have increased self-satisfaction, and an enhanced mood. This leads to retention and in turn, a happier team

Physical benefits – a fitter you. See a stronger immune system, fewer body aches and pains, optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning, and better sleep-wake cycles. This can result in more productivity and a faster team

Social benefits – a better you. Better communication leads to more empathy, stronger interpersonal relationships, and more involvement as a team member. A more engaged team spikes performance and leads to an all-around better team.

The benefits speak for themselves – practicing and receiving gratitude leads to good things. It will boost your mood, the performance of those around you, and in turn even your bottom line. So yes, let the science guide you, but also listen to your teams – that is why CEOs and leaders should want to practice gratitude at work. There is tremendous hidden potential. 

Thank YOU

During this month of November, our challenge to you is to develop an intentional gratitude practice that will then turn into a habit that lasts beyond the month.

To sign off, we wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read this piece. Your time is valuable and getting this far means you found it valuable. 

Knowing that there’s a growing audience of leaders who align with our values – that thriving people build thriving organizations – makes all of the time and energy worth it. Now feel free to pass it along, or better yet, reach out to us and share the gratitude practices you engage in! We love learning from others.  

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