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7 leadership gift-giving ideas for the workplace

5 min read


In the American workplace, this time of year often means the onset of gift-giving. Whether it’s a formal holiday gift exchange or simply the sharing of a meal, leaders often extend a small token of thanks to their employees in December.

Regardless of your company’s protocol, (and even if your company has a strict policy against gift-giving) you can easily give every one of your team members a meaningful and useful gift this holiday season. With just a bit of introspection, you will know exactly what each person on your team needs.

Introspection, you say? What has that got to do with leadership gift-giving? The biggest give you can give your team is the gift of time and attention. And before you can decide how to direct those two precious resources, you’ll need to invest in a bit of introspection. As fellow SmartBlog on Leadership contributor Lolly Daskal writes, “Introspection and its byproduct, self-awareness, are central to any leadership, no matter what level or position. It is the essence of decision-making, behavioral efforts, action, focused energy, prioritization.”

So block off time on your calendar (30 minutes should do it) and get to work on creating this year’s gift list. But take note: the “gifts” suggested are based on your willingness to open yourself to a different way of giving. Here are seven ideas, free of charge and perfect for the people in your leadership sphere.

An introspective leader can give the gift of:

Humility: Make a mistake lately? Own up to it and vow to do better next time. “I messed up and I will fix it” are powerful words. Your team will appreciate your willingness to learn from your mistakes. Better yet, tell a team member how you learned an important lesson by watching him in action. “Steve, it was really something how you were able to negotiate that rental space. I think that technique you used was outstanding; I’ll have to try it myself the next time I negotiate.”

Gratitude: It’s great if you’re at the top of your game, but you didn’t get there all by yourself. Who haven’t you thanked lately? Make a list of all the people you “meant” to thank but haven’t quite found the time to do so. Then sit down and write (yes, write) out thank-you notes. Or, pick up the phone and call.

Development: Sure, there are probably things written on your staff’s individual development plans, but go further than that. What can you do right now to help each member of your team grow? It doesn’t need to be a major leap forward; instead think of it as tending a garden that will eventually bloom come springtime. What small stretch assignment can you make? What tasks can you delegate that will also provide a learning opportunity for a team member?

Space: Do you have a team member you’ve been counseling due to sub-par performance? Consider this: has your extra attention turned into micro-managing? There’s a fine line between offering support and smothering a direct report. Would this employee benefit from a bit of space?

Dignity: Many workplaces thrive on good-natured ribbing and joking around. Most of the time, this relieves tensions and builds rapport, if handled appropriately. But once in a while, a joke goes too far or hits a nerve. If you believe that someone’s feelings have been hurt (by you or someone else on the team) circle back to the recipient of the jest. Restore that person’s dignity with an apology, if necessary.

Honesty: Many team leaders seem to be allergic to the words “I don’t know.” Show your team that you’re bigger than that. Having all the answers is not what today’s leadership is about. Rather, it’s being confident enough in yourself to say, “I’m not sure, but I’ll get an answer for you.” And for those questions that have no immediate answer, your honesty will be especially valued: “None of us knows for sure, but we will figure it out together.”

Friendship: This one is for your peers, not your direct reports. Look around you — who could use an encouraging word or an assist on a tough project? If one of your colleagues could use a mentor, think of introducing her to someone who can help. The payoff goes far beyond gaining the “currency” of a favor; research by Lissa Rankin, M.D., author of “Mind Over Medicine.” shows that people with a close network of friends live longer, have healthier brains, survive chronic diseases better and get fewer colds.

Traditional gift-giving in the workplace is fraught with etiquette questions (“how much to spend?” or “is this gift appropriate?”), not to mention financial constraints. Simplify your gift-giving this season: give from the heart and you will not only delight the gift recipients, but you’ll benefit as well.

Jennifer V. Miller, managing partner of SkillSource, helps midcareer professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the co-author of “The Character-Based Leader,” blogs at The People Equation and tweets @JenniferVMiller.