How Lucky Can I Be?!

by Judith Umlas

I just received surprise vanity license plates from my dear husband, Bob…how lucky can I be?!

He knows that the message of acknowledgment means the world to me. Now I can spread the word wherever I go!





The 5 Cs of Grateful Leaders: Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

The 5 Cs blog series has come to a close. Now, I invite you to pat yourself on the back—you have completed something that is truly life altering and transformational. You are now ready to fully implement the 5 Cs—in your work, your lives, and your communities.

And trust me: If you begin implementing the 5 Cs in one area of your life, you will naturally—and competently—start practicing them everywhere. It happened to me recently when I was running to catch a flight.

The TSA agent who checked my boarding pass and driver’s license told me, “This isn’t you!” I looked at the boarding pass and saw a name I didn’t recognize. He saw my distress, and advised me to go to the ticket counter for a new pass and he would let me right back in. “You will make your flight!” he promised. So I ran, got a new pass, and hurried back. The TSA agent confirmed: “This is you!” And with a warm smile, let me right through, and wished me a good flight.

When I got through security, I actually had some time to spare. Feeling like I had been treated extremely well, I asked for the man’s boss to share my appreciation. When I was told he wasn’t around, I wrote a quick note that stated how positively I had been treated. I included my email address and gave it to another supervisor.

One week later, I received an email from the agent’s boss, letting me know that he almost never receives positive letters. He planned to recognize the agent as a model of how to work with the public during an upcoming meeting. I was thrilled!

Better yet, about a week later, I received another email from the agent himself: “I am walking on air! Because of your note, my boss made a positive example of me about how to treat the public, at a huge meeting. I now have to go tell my 90-year-old mother! She will be so proud of me!” This brought tears to my eyes. Writing a quick note was such a simple action. Yet, it made a huge impact for the recipients.

We can all be doing that on a regular basis when we practice the 5 Cs in every aspect of our lives. But if my story isn’t enough motivation to start practicing the 5 Cs in your own interactions, just consider the following statistics:

  • The latest Gallup studies estimate U.S. productivity loss as a result of disengaged employees is $450 billion to $550 billion per year.
  • According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Retention Practices Survey, the number one reason people leave their jobs is due to a “lack of appreciation.”

Indeed, appreciation, praise, and acknowledgment are a sure way for your people to become and stay engaged, and for you to retain your top talent.

To conclude this series, let’s review the 5 Cs:

  1. Consciousness. Become aware of acknowledgments that are already in your mind and spirit. Be mindful and they will float to the surface.
  2. Choice. You can still always choose yes or no, and hopefully you will choose yes more often now.
  3. Courage. We need courage most when we feel vulnerable, so be lionhearted and overcome your fears. You can (and now must) do it!
  4. Communications. Deliver acknowledgments profoundly and authentically, and sometimes even creatively.
  5. Commitment. This will align with your true mission, goals, and purpose—and those of your organization. Make it part of your corporate mission statement, your team and project charter, and your family structure.

(If you want a visually appealing, downloadable poster of the 5 Cs, email me, and I will be happy to send it to you.)

Now that we must say goodbye, at least for now, here are some next steps you can take to put the 5 Cs into action.

  1. Read and reread the 5 Cs—maybe on a daily basis!
  2. Find ways to remind yourself to show your appreciation on a daily basis. If you need to set a calendar reminder to do so, that’s okay.
  3. Put the poster of the 5 Cs up in your office space and discuss it with visitors to your area.
  4. Have conversations with your staff about acknowledgment and share this series with them.
  5. Ask team members how they would feel if every meeting ended in “appreciations.”
  6. Keep a calendar journal of who you have appreciated or acknowledged each day. If you consult the journal regularly and see a lot of blank pages, seek a better way to remind yourself to record acknowledgments.

Remember: Practicing the 5 Cs is transformational! Once they become core values for you, your team, and your organization, you simply can’t go back to the way life was before—when you didn’t recognize the importance of grateful leadership.

IIL has generously offered to give away one copy of each book in the Acknowledgment Trilogy (see to someone who has a positive result from practicing the 5 Cs (or any one of them) to share with us. Please send an email describing this experience and its result. And remember to share the 5 Cs with everyone you know! This will help to make a positive difference in the world.

With gratitude, Judy

Commit to a Culture of Appreciation

by Judith Umlas

this post originally appeared at ATD.

Once you see the joy and vitality that appreciation, acknowledgment, and gratitude engender in all stakeholders, you will want to find ways to create a culture of appreciation at your office, in your family, and throughout your community. There are so many simple, yet effective ways to create this culture: through dialogue, focus, and reminders, for example. Make it part of your team’s mission to incorporate the 5 Cs of acknowledgment in meetings and through general practice. I know of numerous people who post the 5 Cs on their office walls and read them every day, as reminders before they begin work. This shows true commitment.

The Whole Foods way

A simple way that Whole Foods maintains its culture is to end all meetings in “appreciations.” Does this feel awkward or uncomfortable to the team members? Not at all! They said they couldn’t imagine having a meeting without them! We can start this practice early, too, with our young children. We at IIL call this journey one of going from “Great Kids to Grateful Leaders.” You can see a short video about this, including excerpts from the interview with Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods.

Michelle’s commitment to acknowledgment

Another example of this kind of commitment occurred with a class I led recently at a large global company. Michelle, the person who had brought me in, sent this message to all who attended:

“Let’s start a grateful leadership movement! I want to hear your stories of putting this to use!”

This was Michelle’s creative, committed way of ensuring grateful leadership would become an ingrained part of the culture of appreciation that was beginning to flourish within her workplace. Below is an excerpt from one response that she shared with me:

“RE: Follow up from Grateful Leadership Course

Hello all! I know not all of you were in the same session of Grateful Leadership as I, but I had to share my follow-up story. During the class, I mentioned that I had always wanted to thank a former teacher for the guidance she gave me, but attempts to get in contact with her in the past had failed.

As soon as we took our next break, someone in the class called me over and immediately initiated the search. By the end of the next day, she had found and contacted my former teacher. I absolutely could not believe that I would be able to talk to my teacher again after more than 20 years. At this point, my nerves started to get to me a little bit. Some of the people in the class shared their own stories with me, and the class overall gave me the confidence to get past the embarrassment and pass on the acknowledgment that I had waited so long to give. There were a few attempts to call her before I finally got through and talked to her.

After being so unsure of what I would say to her, we ended up talking for more than a half hour. She remembered not only my class, but my family as well after all these years and all the students she had…She stressed how wonderful it feels to know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life in some way, no matter how big or small the impact.

After all of this, I really want to acknowledge Avery, Meg, and Sam for sharing experiences and helping to build my confidence and give me the push to move forward. I absolutely have to acknowledge Jessica for finding my teacher. She volunteered to do this right away and ran with it. I was completely blown away! Thank you so much! And finally, I have to thank Judy for this class. There are a lot of classes offered here, but this is one that I would recommend to absolutely everyone, whether she is a leader or not. This class will change not only your work life, but your personal life as well!

Best regards, Katie Horrocks”

A call to commitment

Here is my invitation to you: Find someone from your past to acknowledge in a profound and generous way. You might have to be a bit of a detective to find them, but we can see from Katie’s example how much the effort pays off—for both the giver and receiver of the acknowledgment.

Start putting the 5 Cs to work today! Your colleagues and you will most certainly reap the rewards.

Grateful Leaders Know That Communication Leads to Connection

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

If you have been following this series for the first three of the 5 Cs—consciousness, choice, and courage—you may add C #3.5: congratulations! You have made it through the intangible but critically important Cs, and now get a little breather with communication, which is very tangible and easier to fathom, but still exceedingly important.

By now, you have become conscious of the acknowledgments floating around in your mind, have chosen to deliver more of them (more regularly and in a more heartfelt manner), and summoned up your courage to deliver these gifts or treasures that only you can give. Now, it’s just a matter of deciding how you will do it.

Now is more important

Don’t go looking for the right way or right time to express your appreciation. If you see someone and have a very positive, heart-warming thought about her capabilities and talents, don’t save it for another time. Just do it NOW!

It is okay to feel embarrassed, scared, uneasy, or worried. You can stutter or search for words, but take the opportunity to communicate—either face-to-face, over the phone (leave a message if you have to), via an email or text, or a scribbled message on a sticky note.

Even in this totally digital age, a hand-written note also has great value and power. Indeed, many have heard stories about the treasured hand-written notes that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, sent to his employees. In fact, someone in a class I led yesterday had received one at least 20 years ago, and still had it. She has promised to share it with me, as I have not actually seen one of them—though they are legendary.

Consider my own experience: When our book was first published by McGraw-Hill, I sent copies to all of the leaders who had generously allowed themselves to be profiled. I received a delightful, hand-written note from one of them: Michael Case, CEO of the land resource company, The Westervelt Company. I will save and treasure his note forever. And I was so touched by his comment about how his mother had loved the book that I sent her an autographed copy of The Power of Acknowledgment to go with it! It was truly an acknowledgment feast!  (Here is a link to both the blog post and the note itself.)

Let the recipient determine how

During one of IIL’s Grateful Leadership webinars, Emily Robinson-Endert, SPHR director of human resources at Covenant Woods, shared this simple yet extraordinarily effective way to determine how best to acknowledge someone: Ask them! Here is what she wrote for IIL’s blog:

When I hire a new person for my team, I ask how he or she prefers to be recognized or acknowledged. Some people will say a simple thank you; others say in front of the team; and some say chocolate!

Oftentimes, introverts don’t want to bring attention to themselves. For that reason, they tell me a note or a pat on the back will suffice. Extroverts, on the other hand, might have no problem with you shouting their acknowledgment from the rooftops, or even posting it on a billboard. Every person is unique and I do my best to respect their wishes while still acknowledging their contributions. I started this practice when I was a direct sales leader; I needed a way to thank my team members when we met a goal, and I wanted it to be meaningful to the individual.

You can learn a lot about a person from their answer to the question “How do you like to be acknowledged or recognized?” When you ask this early on, it creates a solid foundation for a new and growing relationship. Having said that, I believe in being frank and candid with people. I’ve never had anyone respond to my question with an outrageous request I couldn’t deliver, but I believe if that happened I would explain right away that it was out of my range and ask them to select something within a defined boundary. Bottom line: being honest goes a long way.”

I think this idea is brilliant in its directness and its simplicity. So, this week’s homework is to think about what an ideal acknowledgment would be for you—what truly inspires you to do more and to do it better. For instance, I love being told how special and unique (and of course, irreplaceable) I am! Then ask your colleagues (one up, one down, and one sideways in your organizational structure) what is the most meaningful form of acknowledgment for them.


Lion-Hearted Leaders

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

Why is courage necessary to tell a colleague know how much you value him, the difference he makes on your team, and his unique contributions? Shouldn’t such acknowledgments take humility? Possibly. Generosity? Perhaps. Attentiveness? Yes. But courage also is critical because a profound, heartfelt, and generous acknowledgment demands vulnerability.

Being vulnerable is something that many people fear at all costs—it means revealing oneself in sometimes awkward or uncomfortable ways. I heard a story from one of my students about a senior executive who was told he had to lay off three people in his department. He was devastated, and after the reduction in force was complete, he gathered his remaining employees. He became deeply emotional and told each person how much she meant to him, the department, and the organization. He also acknowledged those who had left and gave others the opportunity to share what their departed peers meant to them. There was a profound sense of gratitude toward this vulnerable leader; each of his employees would have done anything to make his job easier and reach their team goals as a smaller unit.

Brené Brown, researcher and author, writes about inspired leadership through vulnerability and the courage it takes to be real, to allow our humanity to show, and to let people know how much they matter. Check out one of her very inspiring blog posts here.

It’s relatively easy for us to say “thank you” for an action our employees have taken, such as “thanks for getting that report in early.” It is much harder to say: “You have a unique talent that no one else can fill.” What if that person decides to take her “unique talent” elsewhere, you might think, or what if she asks for a salary raise because you told her how much you value her? You must recognize your own vulnerability and the potential negative results you worry about that could result from this acknowledgment. I say: Take the chance!

I am still glowing from receiving a particularly meaningful comment from my CEO recently. He said, “If no one else in the company can do something, give it to Judy” (with numerous examples of what I had accomplished in the past). I can’t begin to tell you how incredible that acknowledgment made me feel! And as a result, I recommitted to completing difficult tasks on an even more regular basis on behalf of my company. It’s a challenge for me, and pretty scary, but I want to prove my boss completely right!

For some, an acknowledgment of who they are rather than what they do could make the difference between staying and leaving an organization. I often talk to good people in wonderful jobs at great companies that simply leave because they don’t feel appreciated. Or they stay and perform at minimum levels because they are not valued. But as leaders, we want people who are motivated and inspired on a daily basis to contribute their maximum and to want to stay with us forever.

Let’s never lose sight of the fact that your acknowledgment on a personal level could be making a profound, life-altering difference for one of your many stakeholders. I will leave you with this very dramatic and true story of the difference one acknowledgment made. It is a powerful example of the courage it takes to deliver a heartfelt acknowledgment when it isn’t one’s natural way of communicating, and the difference such an acknowledgment can make.

This week, acknowledge at least three people in a much more profound, generous, and heartfelt way than you are accustomed to doing currently. If you feel scared or embarrassed, then you know that you are being courageous and are on the right track. If finding all three acknowledgment recipients at work demands too much courage right away, feel free to use your growing competency on a parent, a child, a former teacher, or a service provider. Please report a few of your results in the comments section on this blog post; I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Grateful Leaders Choose “Yes”

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

If you have been following this series, you are now starting to become more conscious—or aware of the acknowledgments that populate your brain many times during the day—for your co-workers, for the barista in the coffee shop who knows your order by heart, for your son or daughter who is struggling at school, and for your boss whom you’ve always held in high regard.

Now we will examine the second C, for choice. I would love to be your very own Jiminy Cricket and serve as your “personal conscience.” I would yell loudly into your ear after you recorded one of the acknowledgments of which you had just become conscious, as advised in the previous blog post. I would say, “Tell your boss right now what a great job she has been doing. No one else ever tells her, and it will mean the world to her!”

But unfortunately, I can’t be your conscience. I can simply alert you to the many joys and successes that lie ahead if you do deliver that beautiful, inspiring thought to your supervisor. Choose “yes,” even though you have the choice of saying “no, not now.” Choose to make her day!

I had one student who told our class rather apologetically: “I’m sure our instructor is aware of this (she wasn’t!), but maybe others haven’t noticed the word “now” within the word “acknowledgment.” The time for an acknowledgment is the moment you become conscious of it. There are few real excuses for not delivering it now.

I share the following story as a dramatic example of the power of choice. In the webinars I present for people across the globe, I lead an acknowledgment exercise. Below is an account of what one participant named Robert texted to us all during this activity:

“I can’t send the (acknowledgment) message because the person I have in mind is now deceased. He was a former boss who in one sentence set my entire career. He called me into his office to ask me to deal with a particular situation. He started to tell me what to do and then stopped and said, ‘You know what to do, don’t you?’ I said ‘yes.’ He said, ‘Then I don’t need to do anything here. Just let me know if anyone gets in your way.’ I learned that I could take charge, and from there, I kept taking on more responsibilities and moved up the chain to management. I never got to thank him. He died from cancer a year after that conversation.”

As I read this acknowledgment aloud to the webcast audience, my voice broke. I heard Robert’s sadness and frustration, and I knew we all felt his painful realization that now he would never have the chance to deliver his acknowledgement. How many of us have withheld this kind of simple, yet extraordinarily powerful statement—the essence of which might be: “You have no idea what a huge and positive impact you made on my life in that one moment. I will never forget you.”

I’m sure that every one of us in that virtual room thought of those we had not fully, profoundly, and generously acknowledged. I do believe that Robert’s statement moved each of us to commit or recommit to making sure we let those who made a difference in our lives know about it—as soon as possible.

And wouldn’t it be better if you could choose “yes” most (if not all) of the time when you become aware of the acknowledgments floating through your brain? If you are still uncertain, send me an email at with the subject line, “URGENT: Choose Yes or No?” I will do my best to respond to you immediately. In the email, be sure to list your considerations for both choices.

Grateful Leaders Practice Consciousness

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

In my first blog post, I introduced the 5 Cs of acknowledgment practiced by grateful leaders. The first C—consciousness—may well be the most important. Consciousness in simple form is the awareness of something within oneself. What I am promoting as a critical leadership competency is the awareness of the vast array of undelivered communications that can change (or even save) lives, engage people by connecting them profoundly to their work and lightening their load, and positively affect performance. Here is a true story of one such difference that a previously undelivered communication made to both the giver and the recipient.

Another real-life story had a profound impact on me. While training 100 managers in a large Finnish company, I posed the question: “When was the last time you were acknowledged for your work—within the last week, month, year, or not at all?” Few people ever raise a hand for the “not at all” category.

Imagine my surprise when even one hand raised in response to the last option. But I was more surprised by the audience’s reaction. The participants jumped out of their seats to approach the person who raised her hand, in shock and amazement at her confession. I heard comments like, “What do you mean you have never been acknowledged—I think you’re the best person we ever had in that role,” and, “Can you possibly say that no one here ever told you how incredible you are?” The auditorium was buzzing. The woman burst into tears and said that if people had only shared all of this wonderful feedback before, she would not be leaving her current office (she had just requested and received a transfer to a more distant company location).

How could something like this have happened, you might ask, when this woman obviously was held in such high esteem by her colleagues? I can assure you that similar instances happen all of the time, in every industry, on a variety of teams and departments, and even within our families. People think wonderful things about others but don’t bother to move such acknowledgments from their brains to their mouths.

And why don’t they? I have heard every excuse in the book: I’m too busy to stop and tell him, he’s too busy to listen, I don’t want to interrupt the work she is doing, I don’t know the right words to use, she might think I am being phony and trying to manipulate her, he will then ask me to give him a raise, and so forth. But if you are reading this blog series on the 5 Cs, there is at least some intention on your part to become more generous and sincere with your acknowledgments, to help your employees feel more valued and appreciated, and to reap the rewards.

So the first step is to take note of the acknowledgments that float through your brain—to become conscious of them. I recommend carrying a notebook with you or capturing these thoughts on your mobile device as each one enters your mind. This ongoing act is imperative if you want to create a culture of appreciation in your organization that will enhance loyalty and engagement. As you grow conscious of each acknowledgment, you will then progress to the second of the five Cs—choice.

The 5 Cs of Acknowledgment for Grateful Leaders: An Introduction

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD

I am grateful for the opportunity to write this blog series on the “5 Cs of Acknowledgment.” Why am I grateful? Because these concepts are transformational, inspirational, and motivational. They are simple, don’t cost anything, and will create miracles for you as soon as you start using them—not only at work, but in your communities and families, too. And I will admit it—I am greedy for miracles! Please share these breakthroughs with me as you experience them.

Here’s one such “miracle” that occurred during a recent webinar I led. More than 100 participants from across the globe attended this particular presentation. In the middle of the session, one participant sent a chat message to the whole group that read: “I will be right back. I have to go acknowledge my boss.” Several minutes later the participant returned and chatted his excitement: “I did it!”

So what had happened there? Why was it necessary for this person to jump out of his seat in the middle of a presentation and acknowledge someone immediately? Because once you start seeing the power of acknowledgement, personal transformation occurs!

The 5 Cs will inspire all of your stakeholders to perform their best and reach their highest possible levels of engagement. People simply can’t do enough to get the job done when they feel valued and appreciated. They grow loyal to the organization and committed to their jobs and their vision of what they can accomplish.

So here are the 5 Cs—not just for you to read, but to incorporate into your work immediately. I have been told by numerous people that they post the 5 Cs on their office walls and read them each day. You can share them in project meetings, discuss them with your team members, and commit to creating or enhancing a culture of appreciation that will benefit everyone—from the C-Suite to frontline employees in your company.

Through this blog series, I will describe each of the five Cs in more depth during the next five weeks. Stay tuned!

  1. Consciousness: Become Conscious of the acknowledgments and gratitude that you already have in your mind and spirit.
  2. Choice: It is your Choice whether to deliver the acknowledgment or to merely keep it floating around in your mind. Choose “yes” whenever possible!
  3. Courage: It is courageous to deliver heartfelt and authentic acknowledgment—it makes us vulnerable. If you feel that you need to summon Courage, you are on the right track!
  4. Communication: Determine the best way to reach your recipient. It is simple to Communicate your gratitude and appreciation once you choose to do so.
  5. Commitment: Once you witness the benefits of gratitude (for example, watch your people come alive, take more initiative, and work with more passion and engagement), Committing yourself to being a grateful leader becomes easy and logical.

Finding Your Way to the Power of Grateful Leadership, Gratitude and Acknowledgment… with a Mind Map!

by Judith W. Umlas

I had the pleasure of leading a webinar in June on Grateful Leadership that was sponsored by Silk Road and HR Daily Advisor. Close to 1,000 people registered and one of the attendees gave IIL what I consider to be a profound and generous acknowledgment: he created a Mind Map of our work! Can you imagine that? Larry Coppenrath wrote this almost immediately following the webinar:

“I attended your webinar today and the attached is my version …it simply is how I choose to deal with today’s onslaught of information…the purpose of which is to share.”

Well Larry, we at IIL truly thank you because the true power of this work is in the sharing of it. Maybe the left-brained people will respond more deeply to your mind map than they would to my impassioned presentations. We never know, and if this helps one additional person get it, use it and share it, then we have all succeeded! So we acknowledge you for your wonderful contribution.


Prepared by:

Larry Coppenrath

Mind1 Mind2 Mind3 Mind4 Mind5