Behind the Scenes of my International Project Management Day Keynote Taping: From Cowardly Lion to Lionhearted Leader!

I worked as a television producer and writer at WCBS-TV for about a dozen years. I know the workings of a TV studio inside and out. So that should make my keynote videotaping a piece of cake for me, right? Wrong! I worked on the “other side of the camera,” so I can’t begin to describe the agony I always put myself (and everyone around me) through in past years to make sure my IPMDAY presentation is perfect, and then I never feel like it is!

But this year, I made a choice: I was going to be as passionate in my presentation to the IIL Media crew and cameras as I would normally be before an audience of hundreds, or even thousands of people, which doesn’t throw me much at all. I would let my passion, mission and purpose come through even though I was addressing inanimate objects (the cameras).

I have to tell you that IIL Media, headed up by Emmy award-winning producer and director d.b. Roderick, cared as much about my presentation as I did! Coordinating Producer Andrea Skipper worked with me for weeks getting the script just right, the visuals dramatic and attention-grabbing. Leroy Patton was meticulous with the lighting and camera work. Andres Valencia (I later learned) was operating the teleprompter for the first time due to a last minute substitution. He did a great job, considering! Then there was Andrea Johnson, Production Manager, who made sure to tell me that the darts in my skirt were crooked and to please fix them. She also made me change my outfit to something all felt was much more suited to my “colorful” personality. I did as she suggested!

The really great part, though, was that I actually felt as though I was addressing live people when I spoke, due to the attention and true listening I received from this delightful crew. And at the end, they spontaneously broke into applause. I was exhilarated and felt like I had broken through my own barriers to full self-expression in front of cameras rather than people. This crew – this wonderful group of people – made it possible for me to connect, and I saw that my message resonated with all of them.

I also give my thanks to the whole IIL crew outside the studio that made this year’s production work so well for me: IIL Marketing, including ShaunMara Begley who found some of the great images used in my presentation; Kaylin Berry, who works with me on all social media projects so successfully with me on social media projects and posts (such as this one!); Lori Milhaven, EVP of Marketing who takes everything in her stride and just gets the word out to the world; Nolan Voss, Sr. Graphic designer who makes everything look so artistic and beautiful; Gregory Johnson, VP Enterprise Solutions who is always a great sounding board/idea person for any of my new and venturesome content creations; and CEO E. LaVerne Johnson who tolerated my trepidation and numerous pleas for her to read my updated script “just one more time…”

Now I will ask you to be the judge of the final result when you attend International Project Management Day 2015: Ensuring a Sustainable Future on November 5th. I would like YOU tell me if I have truly grown greater than my constraints. As noted author Jack Canfield wrote, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” I think I really took that message to heart with this year’s presentation, and hopefully all of you will take it to heart and be the beneficiaries as well!.

There will be a live Q&A at the end of my keynote session during which we can all have some conversation! And you can register now for this great event (there are 38 other thought leaders and Project Management, Leadership and Sustainability practitioners who are presenting). If you do register now, you can get exciting updates from IIL about and until the Big Event! Hope to see you there!

Until the next time…

Register for IPMDAY Here »


Grateful Leadership: A Tool to Build Engagement

By Joanna Durand, Citi Managing Director, GPMO Head, CPMC/SEPG Chair

On June 9, I visited the International Institute for Learning (IIL), to film a segment on Grateful Leadership, with Judy Umlas. Judy, a Senior Vice President at IIL, is an expert on the concept of Grateful Leadership. In fact, she literally wrote the book on it, titled, as you might expect, Grateful Leadership.

We sat down for a few minutes to discuss Grateful Leadership.

What is Grateful Leadership?

On page 9 of her book, Judy introduces the concept of Grateful Leadership by saying the following: “I believe we are on the verge of creating the next wave of vision, inspiration, workability and success in leadership, which will turn many current ideas and philosophies of leadership upside down: Grateful Leadership.”

Judy’s Grateful Leadership model refutes former models calling for employees to be grateful to their leader (the “just be thankful you have a job” line of reasoning), pointing out that Grateful Leaders will realize much more success by having engaged employees. Judy goes on to say on page 9, “Grateful Leaders are those who see, recognize, and express appreciation for their employees’ and other stakeholders contributions and for their passionate engagement, on an ongoing basis.” She continues on page 11, “By creating a culture of appreciation… in which people truly feel valued, these leaders motivate their followers to strive for continuous improvement and always greater results.

Isn’t this the core of what leaders want?

Employee loyalty is tied to feeling respected and validated, and people are more likely to continue working every day in a place where they are part of a fundamental practice of recognizing and acknowledging one another’s value. Conversely, if we do not practice grateful leadership, while we might not lose people right away, people will lose interest and start looking elsewhere if they feel that they are not acknowledged and validated.

It’s Not Just for Managers

One does not need to be a manager to lead, and one does not need to be organizationally at the forefront to be a leader. The tenets of Grateful Leadership are useful and applicable for all sorts of leaders, including those of us who are parents, and those of us who need to interact with others regularly.

The Practical Applications of Grateful Leadership

In my role, I have the opportunity to put Grateful Leadership concepts into practice every day. A few of the ways I lead by these concepts and practice them with my team include:

• Making an effort to meet as many team members in person as I can
• Implementing changes as a result of employee feedback to improve employee experience
• Encouraging people on the team to nominate others for awards, and dedicating time in our quarterly team meetings to formal and informal recognition
• Sending personal thank-you messages and other forms of recognition to individuals on the team when they go above and beyond

It Isn’t Always Easy Being a Grateful Leader

One of the topics Judy touched upon in our interview was that it’s not always easy to be a Grateful Leader. Here are two major reasons why:

• Grateful Leadership (and grateful behavior) takes a willingness to be vulnerable. For a manager, this could look like someone wanting a raise when you offer praise. For a non-manager, the vulnerability is required because you are saying something personal about yourself, and any personal revelation takes strength.
• Grateful Leadership takes commitment. It needs to be deliberately practiced or, in the pressure of our individual roles, we can get swept up – and swept away from practicing acknowledgement/ validation. We must avoid the trap of saying we are too busy, or we just forgot.

Move Forward into Grateful Leadership

Like mastering any new skill, or beginning any new and deliberate practice, Grateful Leadership takes discipline. Start small, by acknowledging someone in the moment when it occurs to you to do so. Or, as Judy suggests, acknowledge someone you wouldn’t normally think to acknowledge. In either case, choose something personal that you believe will resonate with the person you are acknowledging.

I look forward to many more conversations with Judy, and I am grateful to IIL for being an excellent partner over the years.

Originally posted on Citi’s internal enterprise social media platform.

Joanna Durand is a Managing Director at Citi; she has been with Citi for more than eight years, having joined in February 2007. In August 2009, Joanna was named Citi’s Head of Global Program Management. Joanna has over 20 years of diverse leadership experience in global financial services organizations.

Joanna chairs the Citi Program Management Council and Software Engineering Process Governance (CPMC-SEPG), a formally chartered enterprise-wide governing body focusing on Enterprise PM Domain Governance.  She also heads the Global Program Management Office (GPMO),  which acts as the execution arm of the CPMC/SEPG.

Vulnerability as Espoused by Brené Brown is a Key to Grateful Leadership

Judith W. Umlas proudly poses at Book Expo America with celebrated author, speaker and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate Collage of Social Work, Brené Brown. In all of her Grateful Leadership courses and keynotes, Judy references the ground-breaking working of Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability. Brown was at BEA introducing her new book called Rising Strong – The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.


The jacket of Brown’s new book says, “The physics of vulnerability is simple: If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. Rising Strong is a book about what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of struggle gives us the power to write daring new endings.” This, by the way, is the message of Judy’s upcoming International Project Management Day Keynote address: From Cowardly Lion to Lionhearted Leader. Judy firmly believes that we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable in order to communicate heartfelt, profound and generous acknowledgments to all of our stakeholders who truly deserve them. Only then do people feel really valued and know that they are working in a culture of appreciation. This makes all the difference toward creating an environment of engagement, wellbeing and bottom line results.


Brown’s work is “evidence” for the power of vulnerability for the tens of thousands of people who have participated and continue to take part in Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment sessions.

Passing the Grateful Leadership Torch!


For many years, whenever Judith W. Umlas, Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment Author and Trainer has led courses and keynote sessions at companies around the world, she has often been approached by very enthusiastic participants who want to become certified to lead this transformational, high-impact initiative in their companies. They want the results that are achieved with one group of leaders made available throughout their companies, and they see this as the most efficient, cost-effective way to make this happen. But Umlas was concerned that this material could not be taught with her passion and commitment by others. Finally, at a training session she led for at Volvo Construction Equipment (one of numerous sessions she has led for this global company), Michelle L. Madsen, Delivery Specialist, Volvo Group University stepped forth and said she had to be certified! She was both single-minded and purpose-driven, and since the Train the Trainer Certification program had to be built from scratch, it took six months until she was able to teach her first class. Judith was extremely proud of the results as she observed the session (part of the certification program), and was a witness as Michelle achieved all 9s and 10s in her evaluations. Even more significantly, participants commented on how much they loved the passion she expressed for Grateful Leadership. They were truly motivated and inspired! If you see it as your passion, mission and/or purpose to create a culture of appreciation in your company, in which people feel valued and work to their fullest capacity, then maybe you, too, have to become certified! Contact if this is of interest.  And please read the blog post about this exciting new IIL initiative:

Passing the Torch…

To tell the truth, I never thought I would ever be writing a blog post like this one. Ever since I wrote my first book, The Power of Acknowledgment in 2006, and IIL put me on the road training leaders and emerging leaders with the courses we developed around the book, I have to admit that I believed that this course and the ones to follow on Grateful Leadership could only be taught by me. That’s because I had discovered this work to be my passion, my mission and my purpose. And I have been lucky enough to have IIL’s total support in delivering them, in writing the three books on this subject and much more that extends the message and its awesome results.

So when I taught two back-to-back Grateful Leadership courses at Volvo Construction Equipment in Shippensburg, PA last year,  I was pleased and surprised when Michelle Madsen, Delivery Specialist, Volvo Group University, said she planned to fully participate as a student in one of the two day sessions. She had popped in and out of the numerous other courses I had taught there and in Hagerstown, MD, since she was part of the HR organization and was involved in much of the training that went on in both places. At the end of the session she was part of, she came up to me and said in a clear, highly intentioned voice, “You HAVE to certify me to teach the Grateful Leadership course at Volvo.” “We don’t have a certification program for this course,” I said adamantly, not wanting to tell her that we couldn’t have such a program as I was the only person on the planet who could possibly teach it! “Well, then create one!“ she said with persistence and purpose. I promised to look into this, not really believing it could happen.

But my IIL colleague Chris Gregg had always told me that one day there would be a “lot of little Judy’s” running around teaching Grateful Leadership. I always laughed this off when he said this. But he and Michelle conspired, collaborated and with Volvo’s total support, I was given the “privilege” of spending the next six months trying to figure out how I did what I did and always with transformational results that shocked even me. It was nearly as challenging a task as writing all three of my books on the subject. But Michelle was both patient and single-minded about this. “I just have to lead this course,” she would tell me, again and again. “I want to change the world and make a difference.” I started to really see this in action with her follow up to the students in our classes. She wrote this to class participants with the subject line “It’s Amazing!”:

“The positive, uplifting effects on yourself and on others when you acknowledge people is amazing! I challenge you to “Knock Someone’s Socks off” just by giving them a heartfelt acknowledgment (appreciation of a person for who they are).  Be courageous and make a commitment right now to communicate your acknowledgement within the next 2 days! It’s POWERFUL!

I loved seeing this! And just when I was thinking I could never create a Train the Trainer certification program, she wrote to me:

“I am continually in awe of how many people you touch with your message every week!  Isn’t it amazing how a concept so simple and so powerfully positive is missing from our lives?  In a society that is increasing its numbers of depressed, stressed out, and anxiety-laden individuals it is wonderful to have the opportunity to show people a way to deliberately go about lifting each other up. It’s exciting to see the exponential effect of your message growing through trainers!”

So what choice did I have? We worked together to fine tune a program, with its many steps and pieces. We had a virtual run through two months before Michelle was scheduled to deliver her first class to Volvo participants, then a mock session at IIL at which our people misbehaved and challenged her, but she held her ground and her purpose. And finally the big day came. I was by this time very excited and a bit nervous for my “first born,” as I called her affectionately. I decided (with a little coaching from our CEO) to not contribute anything during this class, but just to observe and take notes and autograph books at the end of the day. And it was truly an amazing experience to watch the material “live and breathe” from the mind, heart and spirit of another. Michelle did an awesome job. Her students didn’t have any sense that this was her first delivery — ever — and gave her almost all 9’s and 10’s on the evaluations. What they noted in the comments section was how they loved her passion for the material she taught. I was shocked and delighted! She was delivering IIL’s material, but found her own stories to add to it, her own passion to pass on to others, with her own total adoption of my personal mission — to repair the world!

I was thrilled to officially certify her right after this amazing day. Michelle, with her commitment, her sense of purpose and the total resonance of her being to this message, had proved that this could be done. I knew then that the woman named Kathy who had come up to me after a class at another major organization, who also told me, “Judy, I have to become certified as a Grateful Leadership instructor! It is my life’s work!” wasn’t just dreaming. She was creating her own reality. And now we are working toward making that reality be fulfilled.

Michelle has made that a possibility for all of the others to follow. I am truly grateful to her for allowing me to pass the torch to all of those who come after her, while continuing to be able to express my personal passion about and belief in the power of this message. I  think that’s what is meant by “having it all.”


A Stirring Story

A while back I led a virtual course in Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment. One of the participants approached me by email afterward, telling me how valuable she had found the course to be for her, for her team and her organization. She wanted to know, however, if I could help her with her mother. “Sure!” I wrote back, and we arranged to have a chat. Well, it turned out that this lovely, caring, vivacious woman had such a challenged relationship with her mother that she told me that there wasn’t one thing she could think of to acknowledge her mother for. She really wanted to find something, though, knowing all of the benefits now after having completed IIL’s program,  and the enormous cost of withholding acknowledgments. “There is one thing you absolutely CAN acknowledge your mother for,” I told her. “What?” she asked in disbelief. “The gift she gave you,” I said. “What gift?” she asked, somewhat suspiciously. “The gift of life,” I said. And that, even by her standards, was inarguable.

Her next question made me giggle. “Well,” she said a bit shyly, “do you think you could send her an autographed book and acknowledge her for me?” I agreed to do it, knowing that this would be better than sending nothing at all. So I went into my flowery prose, and wrote on the inside page of the book how grateful her daughter was to her for giving her the gift of her life, and how well she planned to make use of that gift.” And then I sent it off.

About a week later, I got a very excited email from her, letting me know that her mother had received her gift and that when she went to pay an obligatory visit to her, she said her mother was moved to tears and thrilled with the acknowledgment. She told me that their entire relationship was transformed  by this one acknowledgment.

This Mother’s Day, be sure to acknowledge your mother, your sweetheart or your wife. Don’t hold back — it will go a long way. If you need a little help, you might consider IIL’s Mother’s Day Gratitude Gift. And if you need extra help, I will be happy to autograph one of the books and write of your appreciation for the immeasurable “gift” that you received from that special person.

Click here to purchase IIL’s Mother’s Day Gratitude Gift.

You Can’t Make That Stuff Up!

Sammie with Coopie

My colleague Nathalie Udo, IIL Author and Trainer,  shared this amazing and positive learning experience that occurred after she gave a copy of You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids to a friend of hers.

Her friend Jarrod Jacobi wrote: “A while back you gave me a book by your friend Judy Umlas. I put it on the coffee table, and not long after I noticed Samantha reading it for a couple hours…Today when I picked her up from after care at school, I was hurrying her along as I always do while she finishes whatever it is she is working on. As we were walking out, she asked one of the teachers where the janitor was. I was curious why she was asking for the janitor, but I went with it…When we found him, she gave him an envelope she had made. Inside it was a double sided painting she created with the words, “Thank you for cleaning the school!!” written across the top. The janitor was clearly surprised, thanked Samantha solemnly, and said he was going to frame it. Guess where she learned that? (Jarrod is referring to the story from the book, which is called, “A Cupcake for Hector,” written by Michael Wagreich, age 7 at the time he submitted it to me. Hector was the janitor of his school). 

chapter for kids

“A couple weeks later when I picked her up on a Friday afternoon, the janitor came over and said to wait a second, as he had something for Samantha. He returned with a box of 36 freshly baked gourmet cupcakes!!! All the other kids still there were in awe as to why the janitor would give her 36 cup cakes. I told the teachers why and they thought it was a wonderful story and we headed off. When we got in the car, Samantha thought it might be a good idea to share  the cupcakes with the other kids, so we went back inside and passed them around. Ironically, it was her birthday that weekend, so the cupcakes were well timed. 

You can’t make that stuff up!”

And that is the beauty of the power of acknowledgment — when you see the results, you just “can’t make that stuff up!” Our thanks to Nathalie, Jarrod, to Michael…and of course, to Samantha!

Until the next time…Judy


I’m still “Flying”!

In February, 2015 I had the great honor and privilege of delivering Grateful Leadership keynotes to four different groups of Flight Service Leaders at American Airlines. The commitment was to enhance a culture of employee engagement and appreciation that is in development. And the feedback made it clear that all who participated were “on board.”

American Airlines VP Flight Service, Hector Adler Summing up Grateful Leadership Keynotes….for once, Judy is speechless!

“I Was Part of the Problem…”

When I was leading a Grateful Leadership course for Volvo Construction Equipment in Pennsylvania last year, one Product Quality Assurance Supervisor named Jose Rosales bravely stepped forth and shared with the class that letting people know that they matter, that they make a difference, that they are valued and appreciated “JUST ISN’T DONE” on the shop floor! Jose expressed how awkward and embarrassing it would be to act this way as a leader. He was sure he would be ridiculed, laughed at or just plain rejected. I responded that I thought he should take the risk anyway. Toward the end of the course he had — and was courageous enough to share — an incredible breakthrough. I will let him tell you about it in his own words.

“When it comes to Grateful Leadership, I thought that it was always difficult to be or show how grateful you are because of what that individual or people in general may think of the act.  I thought that in manufacturing environments in which I’ve worked most of my career with what I would describe as more serious and mature cultures, being a grateful leader could be misconstrued as being soft, insincere, and a waste of time.  To substantiate my excuse, I recalled the time when I patted a gentleman on the back and said thank you and he responded that he didn’t like being touched.  Therefore, instead of that gentleman receiving my gratefulness with a smile, he made me feel quite uncomfortable.

As I reflected during the Grateful Leadership training, I quickly realized that there were many ways to show how grateful you are towards an individual, their efforts, and overall contributions.  Most importantly, I learned that by letting the one negative experience hinder my ability to be a Grateful Leader meant that I was part of the problem, as it is up to leaders to change the culture and perspective in an organization.  In order to make the transition from Grateful Leadership having that potentially soft and insincere image, to one that’s welcomed and promoted as both a “feel good” and motivating contribution, leaders have to be committed to being the difference makers.

Since my Grateful Leadership training, I have become much more open as a grateful leader in both my professional and personal life.  I look forward to celebrating my employees’ successes on a regular basis and I make sure that I do it in front of our whole team, not just to recognize their efforts, but to aide in fostering a positive culture change moving forward.”

— Jose Rosales, Product Quality Assurance Supervisor, Volvo 

PHOTO: Ken Sanders, awarded for his FTT Inspection efforts and positive feedback provided by the Large Compaction Line. Proudly presented by Jose Rosales.

Judy Speaks About Grateful Leadership with American Airlines

Judy gets an invitation to attend the Flight Attendants’ graduation at American Airlines, where she led four keynote sessions for American Airlines Flight Service Leaders.

She was later invited to participate in simulation training — she was a coach “passenger,” and also spoke to the other “passengers” (Flight Attendants in training) about the ways in which their interactions with real passengers and their acknowledgments could make a huge difference!