A Journey in Grateful Leadership

What’s the deal with Leadership?

Usually at this time of year, we love to speak to thankfulness, its importance, and especially for the things we are grateful for in life. I look forward to broadening that theme to include Leadership, specifically Grateful Leadership, and how I use it to define my personal Leadership Style.


When most people begin to speak to Leadership, they first define it. Although to a degree we all know what Leadership is and what it means, it’s clear that definition is broad and expansive as this list proves.

My favourite way to define Leadership is to talk about what it’s not:

  • It’s not managing
  • It’s not telling other people what to do
  • It’s not using people as resources to accomplish a personal goal
  • It’s not about control

People follow Managers (and other authority figures) because they must. People follow Leaders because they choose to. Leaders have the ability to influence and inspire people to take action.

Whenever I’ve read a definition of leadership or attended a management workshop, I found I had a very “well, duh!” attitude to most topics covered. It seemed that management and leadership were so straight forward that you could simply use common sense to wield power and get positive results.

After a few workshops, I realized that something that came naturally to me, did not necessarily come natural to others. Even more so, I excelled in expressing gratitude where others did not realize that was even an important thing to do.

What is Grateful Leadership?

Grateful Leadership comes down to the most obvious thing: gratitude.

Grateful Leadership means acknowledging people in an authentic and heartfelt manner. It means saying thank you. It means being specific in your praise. It means knowing and understanding what drives and motivates people. It means understanding what others appreciate.

Grateful Leadership is often categorized as having a genuine interest in what people have to say. This means you are motivated to truly understand others, what motivates them and how you can change your approach to respect their personal work style.

It also means having a genuine appreciation for the people you’re working with.

Finally, as a Grateful Leader, you do not view people just a resource to get a job done. You don’t take advantage of what people can offer, and you don’t manipulate them. You are honest-to-goodness thankful for their support! You don’t view people as interchangeable; rather, you appreciate what an individual has to offer that another cannot.

Why is it important?

Feeling appreciated is a need that most people have. And it’s hard for people to express when that need is not being met. Firstly, we may not recognize that this is a need or that it’s not being fulfilled. Just because we leave work or another commitment feeling grumpy, tired and drained, doesn’t mean we can automatically pinpoint that it’s because of not being appreciated or thanked – especially when this starts happening over a period of time. Secondly, just because we have identified that a need is not being met, does not mean it’s easy to communicate that.

As Laura Trice points out in her TED Talk on The Power of Saying Thank You, we don’t tell other people our needs, because they come from our vulnerabilities. We would be sharing information that is intimate, personal and puts us in a vulnerable position. Is someone likely going to share that vulnerability with their boss? Before trust has been established?

Why should you care about being a Grateful Leader?

The two most important things, in my humble opinion, when working on a team are: Trust & Communication.

Without tust, communication suffers. Without communication, there is no trust. These two items hinge heavily on each other. Once trust is gone from a team, it can be nearly impossible to get back.

Expressing sincere and honest appreciation for someone’s work is a great building block for both trust and communication. Valuing someone as an individual – and not just a tool to complete a job – can influence them to dramatically increase their productivity and engagement. It shows that you’re paying attention as leader and taking note of individual contributions. It’s also a way to get to know your peers and colleagues and understand them better.

How do you express Thanks?

It’s important to be specific and sincere in your appreciation. Compare the two examples below:

  • 1: “Everyone did a great job last week – thanks for your hard work completing that project!”
  • 2: “I want to thank everyone on this team for coming together to complete the project we were working on. Tammy, you stayed late and even missed your son’s soccer game to get this done! Bill, you put in extra effort to ensure the final draft didn’t have any errors. Rebecca actually drove the final copy to our partners instead of having it mailed. Your work is really appreciated!”

Ex. 1 seems nice at first glance. But imagine if you received this over and over again. What about your specific contributions to the team? What was great about the project? After all, it wasn’t a smooth process getting it completed. And now it sounds like we’re ready to rush into the next one.

Ex. 2 delves into specifics. The communicator has highlighted the different contributions of individuals on the team, acknowledged sacrifices they may have made, and shared appreciation of their ability to work together. Bill knows his proofing skills are valued, Tammy knows that making a personal sacrifice was noticed, and Rebecca is recognized for doing something outside the norm – even if it was her job to do so.

There are also a ton of other great examples on how to show appreciation here, here and here.

Why do I care so much about Grateful Leadership?

I worked in an organization where I constantly felt undervalued for my work, where none of my extra efforts were noticed, or – my favourite – when I did something above and beyond my role not only was it not noted, sometimes it was “punished.”

I now take even more care to make someone feel appreciated. It felt as though my former boss ruled under a “No Thank You” policy! If you did the work in your job description, you weren’t thanked because it is expected. And if you went above and beyond, you weren’t thanked, because no one asked you to, so why should that be appreciated?

That kind of mentality really wears a person down. That mentality is one that no person with “common sense” should ever develop. However, no matter our leadership style, there is always room for more gratefulness. It’s not just the horror-story managers that are lacking in their gratitude. We can all improve.

It costs nothing, and means everything.


Submitted by Kaitlyn Samways, NLSW Committee Member

Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

I am just going to admit it: before I started working at the YW, I would not have described myself as a feminist. I like it when my husband holds the door open for me – not because I am incapable of doing it myself or because he thinks I am but because it is a nice gesture and simply because somebody else holding the door open for me means I don’t have to do it myself. So am I one of those angry women who would snarl at a man for offering such a condescending gesture thus undermining my independence? One of those feminists? Good grief, no!

Do I ever still have a lot to learn!

Would I have described myself as somebody who is passionate about gender equality? Absolutely! Only a few weeks into my employment with the YW, I got to attend the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women (NLSW) 2014. I went in as somebody-who-is-passionate-about-gender-equality-but-not-a-feminist and left as darn-right-I-am-a-Feminist! Until that day last October, I don’t think I ever felt proud to be a woman. Proud of my accomplishments, sure, but of my being a woman? Rather not. However, at the end of the NLSW, I felt it – proud to be a woman, proud to be a feminist, a word that now made sense.

It is not the “F-Word” anymore, as Jennifer Bonato titled so appropriately at this year’s conference, but a word that stands for the fight for equality. Why did it take the NLSW for me to self-identify as a feminist? First of all, I am white, young, Western… I don’t usually find myself at the receiving end of inequality.

When I was eight, I was fed up with playing the recorder like all of the other girls and wanted to play the trumpet, like my dad. When I finally was ready to join the church brass band, we were a group of ten men, ages 30 and up, and one ten-year-old girl. Today, 17 years later, the band consists of at least as many – if not more – women than men.

I grew up both in the Lutheran and the Catholic church. Contrasted to my mother’s time, when girls were not allowed to be altar servers at all, my church was pretty much run by us female altar servers.

When the gym teacher in elementary school told the girls to play volleyball and the boys to play soccer, I protested until I was allowed to be the one girl who played soccer with the boys.

What I had simply never reflected on before is that I have been a feminist all my life. I have been part of the fight for gender equality all of my life without even realizing that I had to fight, that it was not just a given that I was treated equally. I didn’t realize that so many privileges that I am taking for granted today are the result of the fight other women have fought for me.

Why is that? It’s because that is not what I remember, it’s the women who I remember. While the band was all male until I joined it, the band leader was in fact a woman and, boy, was she a strong one at that. Though I never heard a woman give a homily in either church until I was in my teens, I remember my mother, who was head of parish council for years, or the pastor’s wife whose gentle spirit made me want to be around her all the time.

The teacher I remember the most (well, other than the one I had a crush on in high school) is my female elementary school teacher who believed in me and encouraged me long past my childhood.

I didn’t think it would happen again this year. This feeling of pride, this feeling of: YES! I am a feminist; let’s all be feminists! But it did. When I walked away from this year’s NLSW, I felt it again – a feeling of wanting to be part of making this world even better for us today and for the many girls still to come.

So do I encourage you to join us next year? Absolutely! I hope to see you there.

If the Water is Never Silent

If the water is never silent, why should I be?
I, the woman who is wild and savage and ever changing.
I, the mother of Nature, the mother of children, of the world.
I, who cannot be tamed at the hands of man.
You can try to forecast, to predict what will happen, but I change in an instant.
My storms are incomprehensible, wreaking havoc on villages, cities, countries.
You will never put a chain around my neck or calm my winds – unless I allow you to.
If the wind may screech and howl at the doors and windows, so might I!
And who are you to call the words I speak “hysterical”?
If I mourn for loss and if I become joyous in health and growth, who are you to call me over-emotional?
If your sirens, engines, your pollution, your garbage overpower my peace and quiet, my fragile silence, who are you to condemn my anger?
If you push on my land, my body, who are you to stop my retaliation?
If you pull my weeds and pierce my garden with your shovel, uninvited, I do not want what grows there!
Who are you to say I cannot pluck the flowers I nurture?
For it is from my body that all life flows. I birth nations, forests, clouds.  I quench the fires you start – in order to save you.
And yet you ebb my tides and curse the life I breathe.
You dig up my dirt then pour concrete on it and walk over me regardless of my indignation.
Who are you to call this my “pride” when it could only be hurt?
Who are you to say I’ve thrived too long since you’ve built your concrete jungle and then locked me at home?
Who are you to ask I remain silent…
When the wind is ever-rustling, and the water ever-flowing, and my pen ever-writing.
Who are you to call yourself greater and call me less than?
Was it not I that first welcomed you into my arms and sheltered you?  You pretended to help me up after the fall, little did I know you’d tell everyone it was my own fault.
Who are you to say you are my master when I already have One?
It is not man.  Man will never control this wildness, this wilderness which is my breast, rational when everything is not, steady when it needs to be:

Mother of Nature and of men.

Who are you to say, I am female?

When I say, I am Woman.

By: Kait

Twitter: @kaitlynsamways

“It’s either all of us, or none of us”

Last fall I stumbled onto an event page for a conference taking place on a cool October weekend at my former school. It sounded really interesting and I’m always keen to learn and grow and decided to bring my mom along. I didn’t know it at the time that the Leadership Summit for Women would be one of the most transformational days of my life.

The day was so inspirational and different from any other conference, lecture, seminar or workshop that I have been to with women and girls and allies of all ages, demographics, and life experiences coming together to share their experiences, their lessons and challenges of being a woman leader. I came away feeling very inspired to share this movement with my home community in Niagara. And here we are, with the support of some great community partners, for the first Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

Why do we need to talk about women’s leadership in our community?

Improving women’s equality and representation is, unfortunately, a challenge that continues before us in 2014 and beyond. Our reality is that women are not represented equally in political institutions, around boardroom tables, nor do we receive equal pay for equal work. But that doesn’t mean that women’s leadership is not equally as important or valuable. We need to recognize our own leadership and value women’s leadership in all of its shapes and forms and colours, to really make an impact.

In many ways, Niagara is at a critical juncture in our history. As we begin to transform our economy and community, there are many opportunities to redefine and rethink our future. Who do we want to be? What type of community do we want to become? How can we improve the lives of our residents and create a positive future for next generations?

We need to take advantage of the potential of our greatest assets – our people and communities – by recognizing, redefining and revolutionizing ideas about leadership to more fully support and include women leaders. Supporting women and young leaders is important for all of us. With diverse voices, ideas and perspectives around the table we can make better decisions with more just outcomes that will benefit everyone. That’s what leadership means to me. It’s not about your title or position or profile. That’s what this is all about.

I’m so excited to be able to share this experience with you – my friends, sisters, colleagues, neighbours and allies.

See you on October 18.