The Expert Q&A: On the Importance of Gratitude in Leadership in 2020 with Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Amy Feirn
Q: As we navigate unprecedented changes in our world, what do you think is the most powerful resource a leader has to drive successful teamwork, and why?
- Expressing gratitude and appreciation has always been the backbone of my leadership philosophy. Making sure your team members feel valued and heard creates a space where everyone is more connected to each other and the work they’re doing. As remote work continues—and will likely increase—developing a strategy to connect and be productive with your team is one of the keys to success.
- To do this, leaders need to show up, listen, pay attention, and respect diverse opinions and ideas. But above all, they need to express gratitude.
- I’m a collaborator at heart and have always viewed myself as an equal team member, including in my current role as US Deputy CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP. It has always been important for me to promote what I call my “core 5″—trust, openness, loyalty, confidence, and gratitude—on the teams I lead. This helps break down barriers, so the team is comfortable discussing tough issues with opposing points of view or empowered to navigate challenges and identify solutions together. At the end of the day, leadership is about the people you lead—and a leader is only as strong as her team.
Q: Gratitude is not a theme we often hear leaders speaking about. What led you to recognize its importance?
- I’m a southerner, born and raised. I say “y’all” and grew up in a household that emphasized manners: Looking people in the eye, shaking their hand, being appreciative, actively listening, and expressing gratitude. A few years ago, it dawned on me that those values and behaviors were showing up in my leadership style. It was never a conscious decision I made, but something that was already ingrained in my personality and that was proving to show results in my work.
- As we’ve shifted to a remote workplace, these manners translate digitally as well—such as starting a Zoom call with a personal check-in, respecting family and work hours, and being fully engaged on a call as you would be during an in-person meeting.
- It’s critical—now and moving forward—that we don’t lose sight of the importance of gratitude and manners. At a time when organizations are (rightfully) emphasizing the well-being of others, gratitude is not only crucial to building interpersonal respect, but also productivity. It allows us to foster more meaningful connections with our colleagues and teams while increasing engagement and driving results, regardless of where we are geographically.
Q: With many people having experienced loss during this challenging time—from the loss of loved ones to jobs to the freedom to be with family, friends, and colleagues—some might find it difficult to wrap their minds around gratitude now. How do you develop it, and what are some things you are most grateful for in your work life now?
- People are the heart of a business and a community, and it’s important they are heard, understood, and valued. Cultivating gratitude encourages us to identify goodness in our lives, both professionally and personally, and recognize the source of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It’s a humble dependence on—and appreciation for—others.
- We cannot forget to look at others and see their humanity. “We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.” This line from a poem written by Damian Barr that went viral in April perfectly sums up the various ways people are affected and feeling during these challenging and uncertain times. Empathy goes hand-in-hand with gratitude. And though you may not have walked in their shoes, you can walk alongside them in yours. You can be present, listen and learn, and provide support.
- Today, I’m most grateful for my family and team’s health above all else. I’m also incredibly fortunate to work with some of the smartest and most innovative thinkers in the business at a company that prioritizes the well-being of people while helping our clients succeed.
Q: What is one example of how your expression of gratitude in your leadership role has made a difference for your team?
- Over these past six months, my team has worked in what will likely be the most dynamic environment of our careers. Constant worry about whether we were making the right choices quickly enough or doing enough to support our people, clients, and business. All conversations were about these decisions with very little focus on us as leaders. I started worrying about my team’s wellness and sustainability. So, I deliberately dedicated a meeting to communicate just how amazed, proud, and inspired I was (and continue to be) by their leadership, progress, and ability to navigate the COVID-19 marketplace. In addition, I let them know they had permission (as well as an expectation) to take time for themselves…whatever that meant, whatever they needed.
Q: What tips would you offer people who are new to the topic but interested in cultivating gratitude into their leadership style?
- Leaders should always prioritize manners—both in the workplace and beyond. Think about how punctuality, eye contact, active listening, gratefulness, responsiveness, and caring can contribute to and improve your relationships and results. Implementing these relatively easy shifts in our day-to-day lives can really move mountains in the workplace.
- Saying thank you and I’m here if you need me. Being available to listen, answer questions, or offer resources is a great display of gratitude in leadership—it lets people know you appreciate the work they are doing.
- It is so important for leaders to foster a culture where everyone cares about one another and prioritizes each other’s well-being. Manners often come naturally if you truly care about the relationship or outcome, and you value the input of your team. Take the time to learn about your peers, both on a personal and professional level. This will help spur a sense of caring that’s necessary for effective leadership and eventually permeates throughout the entire team.