Gratitude Creates Better Managers

Saying thank you seems like the simplest, most basic form of courtesy. Yet so often we forget to thank others for the big and small gifts we receive.

This year, I am profoundly grateful for the gifts of life and health. Further, 2020’s challenges have especially driven up the value of the gifts of family, friends, and teammates. The wonderful people in my life have made all the difference.

(Give thanks. Photo by Simon Maage.)

The positive impacts of gratitude at work

If all of this isn’t enough, here is another reason to up your gratitude game: practicing gratitude makes you a better manager and creates a better workplace.

Courtney Ackerman has collected in one helpful place 28 benefits of gratitude and the most significant related research findings. Items 16-20 on her list concern the positive impacts of gratitude in the workplace:

  • Gratitude makes us better managers: “Gratitude research has shown that practicing gratitude enhances your managerial skills, enhancing your praise-giving and motivating abilities as a mentor and guide to the employees you manage (Stone & Stone, 1983).”
  • Gratitude makes us less impatient and improves our decision making: this applies to both financial and health-related decisions (DeSteno, Li, Dickens, & Lerner, 2014).
  • Gratitude helps us find meaning in our work: “Gratitude is one factor that can help people find meaning in their job, along with applying their strengths, positive emotions and flow, hope, and finding a ‘calling’ (Dik, Duffy, Allan, O’Donnell, Shim, & Steger, 2015).”
  • Gratitude contributes to reduced turnover: “Research has found that gratitude and respect in the workplace can help employees feel embedded in their organization, or welcomed and valued (Ng, 2016).” In addition, the Kelly Services Global Workforce Index (Kelly Services, 2011), found that “feeling unappreciated is the top reason why people leave their jobs, suggesting that workplace gratitude may aid in retention and in creating a stable work environment” (Dik, Duffy, Allan, O’Donnell, Shim, & Steger, 2015).
  • Gratitude improves work-related mental health and reduces stress: “Finding things to be grateful for at work, even in stressful jobs, can help protect staff from the negative side effects of their job.”

What comes next?

Taking this advice to heart, I’ll be sending friends and colleagues notes of gratitude this week. And, because this works best when gratitude is a regular practice rather than an occasional event, I’ll commit to conveying my thanks more often to the people who touch my life. In the process, research shows that I’ll rewire my brain for the better, become happier, and, most importantly, contribute some joy to others.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for support of this blog. I appreciate each and every reader. You make this effort worthwhile.

I wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!

[Photo Credit: Simon Maage]

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What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?

What makes lawyers so challenging?

No, this is not the beginning of a lawyer joke! Rather it’s the question that was answered at an informative session held at the Practising Law Institute in New York City.  As part of a day-long program on legal project management, the organizers asked Mark I. Sirkin, Ph.D., to speak about the personality traits of lawyers and their suitability to lead or serve on project teams. (Dr. Sirkin is the co-managing partner of Threshold Advisors, LLC and was formerly a consultant with Hildebrandt.) Using recent research and the Hogan Personality Inventory Scales, Dr. Sirkin identified the following challenges:

  • Lawyers are not designed for teamwork. Most lawyers have the personality trait of Autonomy, which means they would prefer to do their own thing rather than work with others.  Further, not only do they score high in Autonomy, but also in Skepticism and Pessimism. They are trained to assume the worst, look for problems, issue spot. Taken together, these traits can make them hard to be around.
  • Lawyers don’t find it easy to work with others. Lawyers score below the general population in Sociability (i.e., the need for social interaction) and Resilience (i.e., they are thin-skinned).
  • Lawyers are trained for independent action. Law schools traditionally have emphasized individual performance. Contrast this with business schools, which require teamwork from their students from the beginning.
  • Law firms traditionally have rewarded individual performance. If the compensation system of a firm is individualized and competitive, it does not provide incentives for teamwork and cooperation.
  • Lawyers feel fungible. If a lawyer feels like a fungible billing bot, that lawyer will find it hard to identify and pursue an inspiring goal. Sharing inspiring goals is key to establishing team spirit.
  • Lawyers tend to be adversarial. Dr. Sirkin’s data show that many (if not most) lawyers tend to be adversarial by nature. Further, they are tough-minded and tolerant of conflict.
  • Lawyers have high Urgency. A high Urgency score indicates a tendency to rush to action.  Most lawyers score high in Urgency, which means that they tend to lack patience for the early planning that is required for project management and teamwork.
  • Lawyers are not detail-oriented. The data supporting this assertion will surprise lawyers and their critics alike.  When compared to the general population, lawyers tend to be more “big picture” people and less focused on small details.  To the extent lawyers do focus on details, it is often because of their Aesthetics score, which tends to push them toward providing good work product.

While a lifetime of hearing lawyer jokes may predispose you to believe that lawyers have few good traits, the reality is more nuanced than that.  Their self-selection over time tends to concentrate particular traits within the profession, but those traits have been viewed as necessary for survival until now. That said, lawyers at the top of their game are highly functioning individuals who have accomplished a great deal of good in the world.  Nonetheless, from a purely self-referential perspective, I do find this research troubling. What is clear is that the personality traits of many lawyers make them less amenable to general law firm knowledge management efforts. When reinforced by an “eat what you kill” compensation system, they apparently have little incentive to share, cooperate or collaborate.

However, the problem goes far beyond law firm KM. In fact, this discussion left me wondering if the people who had been so successful in a profession that traditionally emphasized independent, adversarial action might now be ill-equipped for the new style of lawyering involving project management, focused teamwork, effective knowledge management and transparency.  Obviously, firms will need to change their training practices.  Will they also have to change their hiring practices?

[Photo Credit: slgckgc]

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