Just before stepping down as chief corporate affairs officer for Walmart, veteran strategist Leslie Dach wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review, titled, “Don’t spin a better story, be a better company.” In the piece, he explored the many ways Walmart showed others that “taking on large social issues”—women’s economic empowerment, healthier food, environmental sustainability—“can be compatible with building a stronger business.”

Often, clients hire corporate reputation strategists with the goal of finding a better way to tell their story, but Leslie was exactly right. It’s not about telling a better story, it’s about owning your whole story—all the people who made it possible—and making it better every day.

But how?

The science of gratitude, a field that has grown significantly in the past 15 years, has found that gratitude is a powerful force for good. People who are more grateful are often healthier, and gratitude is widely recognized as a type of “social glue” binding communities together.

But what does gratitude have to do with corporate reputation? Allow me to explain.

Grateful Leaders Are Happier

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and leading thinker on the topic of gratitude said, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Studies show “gratitude may be associated with many benefits for the individual, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction.”

Leaders who are grateful are more likely to be healthier, happier and more productive in their work and life.

Grateful Teams Are More Aligned

“Thank you.”

What do these words mean to you?

When I was delivering sandwiches in the middle of the night during my college years, I can tell you that I really would have appreciated hearing those two words once in a while.

Research—and our own lived experience—shows that “noticing how another person has helped you, acknowledging the effort it took, and savoring how you benefited from it, engages biological systems for trust and affection, alongside circuits for pleasure and reward.” This kind of positive energy is contagious for a team, and it builds trust—another foundational element of a strong corporate reputation.

Grateful Organizations Give Back

Research shows that “gratitude might lead to greater willingness to support the common good,” and “being prompted to recognize luck can encourage generosity.”

Those of us who realize that our success is due—yes, in part to our hard work, but—largely to the communities we are a part of, are more likely to give back, as individuals and as leaders of organizations.

So, if gratitude can make individuals and leaders happier and healthier, and gratitude can make teams feel appreciated and aligned, and gratitude can increase our collective interest in doing good, then we can see how gratitude is the foundation of a strong corporate reputation.

My team has been fortunate enough to see this with our clients, from a global health company that champions front line health workers because they are essential to impacting public health, to a rapidly growing food brand that has chosen to share a percentage of its growth with its employees.

This all stems from gratitude—scientists’ gratitude for health workers who make it possible for their innovative therapies to reach patients, and a founder’s gratitude for the people who have made his company’s growth possible.

We are also privileged to work with a manufacturer that offers an employee relief fund that provides grants to employees who have experienced hardship. When a recent storm struck one of their facilities, the first employee to donate was from a facility in that had benefited from the fund last year. He was grateful to his colleagues, and he wanted to pay that appreciation forward.

I have that opportunity every day as the leader of our own nimble organization, which is made up of people interested in doing good work in a way that supports our commitment to the other parts of our lives that matter—our families, the nonprofits we support, the students we teach and mentor.

As the leader of our team, I’m grateful not only for my team’s work but also for the opportunity I have to learn from and serve our clients alongside them every day.

Our shared gratitude and mutual respect make for a great story—and an even better company. No spin needed here. And I’m thankful for that.


Owen Rankin

Owen Rankin

Owen Rankin is Founder and President of Over the Horizon Strategies, a corporate brand consultancy that advises some of the world’s most admired companies on how to build, protect and grow strong reputations.

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