Creating a Culture of Authentic Gratitude

Creating a Culture of Authentic Gratitude

Building positive behaviors within individuals and teams through the power of genuine thankfulness is no easy task, but the rewards are plentiful. Over the last several years, much has been written about the need for authenticity in leadership and how expressing gratitude is one hallmark of emotional intelligence. However, very little has been offered on how to do it effectively. Based loosely on Dr. Robert Cialdini’s groundbreaking work on the power of influence, the author of Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, provides practical exercises any leader can use within his or her teams to improve team engagement, encourage positive organizational behaviors, and develop gratitude as a key aspect of the team’s culture. 

In this article, learn how expressing gratitude in an authentic and specific way improves team/individual engagement and creates a repetition of positive behaviors by the receiver and giver of thankfulness. Gain an understanding of why saying ‘thank you’ as a matter of habit or manners lacks its overall impact and experience of its intended target. Understand how authentic gratitude can apply in the healthcare setting—creating a positive patient experience that is both meaningful and memorable to the receiver and giver.

Authentic Gratitude: Moving Beyond ‘Thank You’

The dictionary provides us a gratitude definition as the quality of being thankful and/or the readiness to show appreciation (kindness retribution). But, what comes to your mind when you think of authentic gratitude? Most of us think of a simple “thank you” and move on with whatever else life throws at us. We don’t take the time to express gratitude in a meaningful way. Authentic gratitude is both experiencing the feeling of thankfulness and the action of thanking the source of that good feeling.

Practicing Authentic Gratitude Using the S.E.T. Method

Developed by Marion Spears Karr, MA, S.E.T. is a new approach for leaders to put authentic gratitude into action. Leaders can follow the SET steps and implement genuine appreciation for their daily activities.

  1. Specific
  2. Explanatory
  3. Thoughtful


Be specific about the act, behavior, or gift. This is important because:

  • Reinforces that the action is positive.
  • Frames future behavior – people like being consistent or appreciated. When we are specific about an act, it is more likely that the person who is giving repeats the positive action.
  • It provides insight into the person that’s offering what the other person appreciates.


Explaining is essential for the person to know how it can help the organization and their growth professionally and personally.  It allows the person that is doing the work to understand, “Why does this matter to the person being grateful?”


Use the name of the person you are thanking. When you use a person’s name, it aims the gratitude towards them. It also allows the appreciation to be specific to what the person accomplished. Using names can also be done through a team’s name. By being thoughtful, you shine the light at a particular employee or group within the organization.

By being authentically grateful, leaders can show that everything that is done is essential. Every task, small or large, is being executed for a higher purpose. Authentic gratitude helps the employees see the value in their work and how it affects the overall mission and experience. It encourages positive behaviors. No matter what position you hold, employees enjoy having relationships with team members and a leader who demonstrates positive behavior.

Authentic gratitude shows employees the value of their work and everyone’s work. Next time you write a thank you note, email or thank someone personally, follow the S.E.T method, and watch how others become more willing to continue helping you and showing you kindness.

Examples of SET:

“Thanks for the coffee, Alex. I didn’t get any sleep last night, and this coffee is going to help me focus on a report I need to turn in by  noon.”

“Susan,  I really appreciate how you spoke up in the meeting this morning.  Our whole team benefits from your observations and that took courage.  Thanks again.  You’re a great team player.”

Benefits of Authentic Gratitude

According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, “In general, more grateful people are happier, more satisfied with their lives, less materialistic, and less likely to suffer from burnout.” Additionally, further research on the topic suggests that “Gratitude may also benefit people with various medical and psychological challenges. For example, one study found that more grateful cardiac patients reported better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of cellular inflammation.  And another found that heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks were more grateful and had reduced signs of inflammation afterward.”

There is some evidence that authentic gratitude in the workplace may also help to increase job performance, help employees feel more satisfied at work, increase rapport between co-workers, and be the key ingredient that fuels resilience.

As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said,

“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

Marion Spears

Marion Spears Karr, MA
Vice President
Tyler and Company
Direct:  678-501-2630

Marion Spears Karr, M.A., possesses over 30 years of highly successful executive recruiting and talent acquisition consulting in the healthcare industry. He currently serves as Vice President at Tyler & Company, the executive search branch of Jackson Healthcare – a comprehensive family of highly-specialized healthcare staffing and technology companies. Marion is nationally recognized for motivational speaking, leadership coaching, individual and team development. Learn more about Marion

Contact Tyler & Company to discuss how we can help your organization achieve operational efficiency by matching the best possible candidates for your unique executive and interim healthcare leadership needs.

Additional Reading