The Power of Appreciation in Leadership

Each of us has probably, at some time or another, felt the effects of appreciation in our life. It generates a marvelously giddy feeling of self worth and creates a human connection to others that encourages us towards even more collaborative relationships. As a leader, it is important to give appreciation because it enhances self-esteem for both giver and receiver and creates a human connection. One reason why appreciation is powerful is that, “I appreciate you” is very different than, “thank you.” While many of us were taught to say please and thank you whether we wanted to or not, because it is polite, we often do it automatically. An appreciation, however, is special, intimate and should always be given thoughtfully.

According to Jack Canfield, in The Success Principles, “A state of appreciation is one of the highest vibrational emotional states possible.” Sadly, while appreciation is a wonderful thing to receive, how often do we give it back to others and practice it ourselves?

Oprah Winfrey talks about gratitude a lot on her television show. She popularized, “The Gratitude Journal” by Sarah Ban Breathnach. In the book, Ban Breathnach suggests that you list five things that you are deeply thankful and grateful for what happened that day. It will help you make each day a passionate experience and help you on your path towards everyday greatness.

Ban Breathnach lost many of her senses as a result of an injury. She couldn’t taste her food or smell her daughter’s hair after it was washed. She couldn’t even listen to music or speak on the phone because it made her dizzy and confused. Months after her accident, she smelled the delicious wafts of spaghetti and meat sauce being made by a friend, and she experienced deep appreciation and gratitude that she never forgot again. She writes, “For the next few happy weeks, I rediscovered life with the same sense of wonder as my little girl. Biting into a ripe, juicy peach. Listening to music. Seeing bright sunlight stream through a window. Being able to wear my favourite sweater. And naturally, cradling my daughter in my arms again. I was astonished and ashamed at my appalling lack of appreciation for what had been right under my nose. All these years later, I strive to make each day a passionate experience, one in which I take time to savour life’s textures, tastes, sights, sounds and aromas. Through the power and grace of gratitude, you, too, can do the same.”

In Stephen Covey’s book, Everyday Greatness, he says, “People with everyday greatness are quick to exhibit everyday gratitude. They do not take life or the kindness of others for granted. They are eager to say thanks and the first to express praise. Many have found the best sleeping pill comes from counting one’s blessings, naming them one by one.”
As a leader, giving appreciation can be awkward and a bit stilted at first but gets easier with practice. Giving appreciation is necessary anytime, all the time. It’s best sooner than later. Set aside some time for appreciation, especially during:

  • Staff meetings
  • Off-site meetings
  • Projects
  • Peer reviews such as walkthroughs and inspections
  • Coaching sessions
  • Performance reviews

At some level, each of us wants to feel appreciated. A recent poll of 64,304 employees at companies that are clients of Sirota Survey Intelligence, including 8,000 in Canada, showed that the top three expectations of people of all age ranges is that they will be treated with respect, dealt with equitably and will gain a sense of connection with the organization on a work and personal level. Showing appreciation is an easy and powerful way to deliver on these expectations.

Some of us may have difficulty accepting a sincere appreciation. Be respectful of that, and know that you may be surprised by the reaction you get when you offer an appreciation. In a group, avoid the temptation to lump everybody together as in, “I appreciate everybody.” The intention may be good, but the effect is watered down.

As a leader, you can set an example for others to follow by expressing your own appreciation and making time as suggested above for your team to do so. Once appreciation takes hold things may never be the same on your team!

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh.

On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends.

You may contact her at