Gratitude Fuels Connection
The holidays remind us to give thanks to our loved ones. At our Thanksgiving, my sister asked everyone what they were thankful for and when the turn came for my nine-year old grandson, Avi, here is what he said: “I am thankful to my aunt Tonia for making a beautiful holiday Thanksgiving and for gathering the family all together. I am thankful to my parents who take care of me. To my mom who cares for me and makes sure that I have everything I need. I am thankful to my dad for cooking delicious meals and taking care of me. I am thankful to my grandpa Jack for motivating me to finish today’s Turkey run. I am thankful to my grandma Rosa for telling me all about the election when we were walking at the run. I am thankful to my grandma Lola for playing with me. I am thankful to my aunt Sara for getting married in October, I had so much fun on our trip to Napa and being at the wedding. I am thankful to my aunt Hanna for giving me another cousin to play with. I am thankful for my brothers and sisters for being in my life and playing with me. Elli and Adelina for being such good sisters. Noah and Mikah for being great brothers.” The reaction by everyone when Avi finished was amazing to observe. Everyone was beaming with a smile and a few of us, including me, even jumped to our feet to give Avi a kiss. The amazing positive energy that fueled the room with warmth and connection lasted all through the day in to the night, providing us with a sense of togetherness and joy. As I observed my family, I could not stop thinking of boards that I work and how words of gratitude shape their dynamics. Boards are like families. They depend on each other, share ideas, and make decisions together. They must trust and rely on each other to fulfill their duties and responsibilities and when they take moments of sharing their gratitude for each other’s efforts in making the company successful, they create emotional connection. In his book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman refers to that connection as “resonance”, a sympathetic vibration between two elements that allows people to synchronize signals and act in a new harmony together. It is the same vibration that you hear in the
climaxes of a Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4 when an orchestra of one hundred musicians perform at once. Every cell in your body responds to it, making the orchestra, the music, and the audience as one. When I observe similar moments on boards where board members know how to tune to each other and create this amazing connection, my response is always the same: I feel a sudden joy. This is exactly what happened at our Thanksgiving. It also happened at a recent board meeting I attended. Paul E. Greenwald, the Chairman of the Center Club, opened the meeting by sharing words of gratitude and throughout our 2-hour board meeting, the gratitude carried us to engagement, followed by appreciation, collaboration and recognition. It was so energizing that at one point, Victoria Collins, our Past Board Chair, and a member of club for 30 years stood up and said, “Someone from the above is watching our board. He would be so proud of what this board has been accomplished. That person is Henry Segerstrom. When Henry opened this club, his vision was to create a place where people would enjoy themselves and come together in harmony.” The neuroscience of harmony tells us that when people share the words of gratitude, specific nerve cells, called mirror neurons, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain get activated. These neurons are one of our basic mechanisms that allow us to feel what the other person is feeling. This is different than trying to understand someone’s experience through cognition. This is the same kind of engagement of mind, body, and emotion that happy couples feel when they make love. They are moving in an emotional flow, without a conscious effort. There is a sense of comfort and safety that is present. Gratitude fuels connection. Because emotions are contagious, the mirror neurons activate the production of feel-good chemicals: oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. When these chemicals are produced, our motivation to engage, collaborate, and innovate significantly increases. Kerstin Unvas-Moberg, a Swedish neuroendocrinologist, discovered that merely thinking about people that you have emotional connection with can increases the production of oxytocin. In the chart below you can see how that increase in hormones increases the board’s energy. When board members connect on emotional level, it creates an incredible energy so that by the time the meeting ends, everyone feels united, energized and inspired to go out move the company forward. The energy is sparked with gratitude. Gratitude includes everything from saying “thank you” to acts of appreciation and recognition – like celebrating a successful quarter or congratulating a board member for a personal accomplishment. Studies show that oxytocin not only increases our motivation to work together, it reduces the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that diminishes cognitive functioning and rational thinking. When oxytocin increases, people tend to trust and interact with each other which provides board members an opportunity to explore new ideas and come up with great strategies. These findings help to understand that when gratitude is incorporated in board meetings, board members are much more engaged and collaborative with each other, creating satisfying moments of connection over and over again. Avi’s show of gratitude created such a warm environment at our Thanksgiving, the same principle can be applied to boardrooms. Gratitude is one of the best ways of promoting emotional connection and improving board effectiveness.
About the Author: Dr. Lola Gershfeld is a Board Dynamics Specialist, Founder and CEO of Level Five Executive in Newport Beach, CA where she helps boards transform into effective teams using emotionally focused Board Dynamics Process. She is an author of Effective Board Dynamics Guide along with several published articles. Her fresh perspective to board effectiveness is simple – when board members are emotionally connected, they are stronger, more confident, and are able to address any challenge togethered, they are stronger, more confident, and are able to address any challenge together