Why Positive Leaders Invest In Gratitude & Forgiveness

05/26/2015 01:38 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

If you sat down at your next leadership meeting and strongly recommended that now was the time for your organization to implement more virtuous practices, like compassionate support, forgiveness of errors and generosity and gratitude what response would you get? Perhaps a polite shaking of heads while people tried to quickly move onto the next item on the agenda? Or maybe outright laughter at what could only be a joke in the current climate?

Yet despite the natural reservations of many business leaders, an extensive amount of evidence suggests that demonstrations of virtuousness in work organizations are associated with increased commitment, satisfaction and profitability. In particular gratitude, forgiveness, transcendence, compassion, honesty, hope, and love are among the virtues that have found over a two-year period to drive double-digit improvement on multiple performance dimensions.

"In the original Latin and Greek, the word virtuousness simply means the best of the human condition," explained Professor Kim Cameron from the University of Michigan when I interviewed him recently. "So of all the times when we need a focus on positive leadership and organizational virtuousness, it's now."

Kim admits that many of the leaders he suggests a virtuous approach to are skeptical at first. When shown the growing body of research that demonstrates marked improvements in productivity, quality, innovation, customer satisfaction, employee engagement and profitability, most leaders are keen to understand how they can implement more positive practices.

So where might you start?

In a chapter Kim recently contributed to "How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact" three approaches he recommends are:

  • Expressing Gratitude - Frequent and sincere expressions of appreciation have been found to produce dramatic effects on individuals and organizations. Be it encouraging employees to keep a gratitude journal to track three things they're grateful for each night, writing a thank you card or email to someone each day or to positively embrace someone whenever you can by expressing your appreciation for their hard work, gratitude requires neither big budgets or a heavy commitment of time.

For example several years ago the CEO of LG in Japan set himself the challenge of writing five gratitude cards expressing his appreciation and thanks to five different people in his organization for the contributions they made, each day. More than six years later not only has he maintained this commitment but he credits it with having changed his whole organization because it made him look for things he wouldn't normally see and to help people flourish who would have been previously ignored.

  • Enable Forgiveness - Organizations with a forgiving culture have been found to experience more trusting alliances, social capital, workplace humaneness, customer care, and a sense of calling among employees. Be it redefining failures as learning opportunities, seeking a higher purpose that provides personal meaning for employees, separating acts from people, providing environments of support or honoring fairness and equity, forgiveness allows people to heal, replenish and restore positive energy.

  • Facilitate Transcendence - Transcendence refers to positive deviance, a sense of profound purpose, and the realization of an ideal. One tool for fostering transcendence is to develop an "Everest goal," based on the idea that climbing Mt. Everest represents the peak, culmination, or supreme achievement that people can imagine. Everest goals are not just fantasies or dreams, instead they aim for remarkable performance, possess inherent value, focus on opportunities and possibilities, aim to make a contribution and energize people. For example Apple's goal of "one person, one computer" in the 1980s or Prudential's effort to secure retirement for 10 million people at the turn of the century are Everest goals.

As a leader what virtues do you encourage in your team? Could a more virtuous approach be the competitive differentiator that enables your organization to flourish?

For more tested, practical examples you can foster virtuousness in your workplace grab a copy of "How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact."