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.

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!





Many of you know – or know of – the Founder, President & CEO of IIL, E. LaVerne Johnson. But you may not know the Matriarch of IIL, who passed away on February 2nd at the age of 95: LaVerne’s mother, Clydene W. Castor. When most people are retiring, Clydene began working at the company her daughter had just founded, 24 years ago. And those of us who knew her, felt her spark, her spunk and her spirit on an ongoing basis. She believed whole-HEART-edly in IIL and in her daughter’s vision. She believed in all of us, and each of us was enlivened and en -LIGHT-ened when she would answer the phone at IIL’s Global Distribution Center in Monett, MO. Our challenges became easier, and our successes greater when we heard the aliveness in her voice. So here’s a tribute to Clydene:



G  - Gems of wisdom that she bestowed upon us with generosity and delight
R  - Radiance from the light she shone on everyone and everything
A  – Acknowledgements she gave us so generously and frequently
T  – Treatment of all people with kindness and compassion
E  – Encouragement she gave us when times were tough. They meant so much to all!
F  – Fortitude in all of the challenges of life and work. They inspired many of us to personal greatness!
U - Unique in the most positive of ways.
L  – Lovable. Purely and simply, inspirationally and deliciously.


So let’s all Be Grateful — for Clydene W. Castor, and for the legacy she has left behind that will last forever – one that her family, her friends and all of us at IIL can and will treasure.

Until the next time, Judy




Why We Need More Grateful Leaders (for Leadership Cafe)


by Tal Shnall & Judy Umlas

Let me ask you couple of questions:  When was the last time someone acknowledged your efforts and contribution? When was the last time you personally acknowledged someone and communicated it to them in a heartfelt way?

Most of us go through life without a real sense of gratitude and appreciation for what matters the most. We are busier than ever. With technology available to us at any moment, the 40- hour work week is long gone and work-life balance is still an art that many have yet to master.

If you are a leader in your organization, you are probably faced with enormous challenges and opportunities to create value in the market place. There is more competition than any other time in history. Some organizations are still stuck at the Industrial Age mindset of products and services, while others have capitalized on their most valuable asset-people!

According to recent studies done by Gallup Organization, only 27% of employees are engaged, 52 % are disengaged and while 18% have “checked out”. It begs the question for every leader out there: Do we take our employees for granted? And why do we not make the time and the effort to appreciate and acknowledge the people that we value the most?

Read the full blog post at Leadership Cafe.



Tal Shnall is a leadership and client relations advisor. His background consists of customer service and leadership training in the hotel industry for almost 20 years. Tal has put together award winning service programs by working with brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Starwood hotels. Tal is passionate about leadership development and making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Connect with Tal on Twitter @tshnall or send a quick email to tshnall@yahoo.com




Why I’ve written love letters to my wife twice a week for 10 years (that’s over 1,000 letters!) by Very Special Guest Blogger Bob Umlas


(As we near the end of another year, I think of the many things in my life I am truly grateful for: my wonderful family, my dear friends who are like chosen family, and my awesome work that allows me to pursue my passion, mission and purpose in life.  But I really have to stop and marvel at one aspect of what I celebrate, and it is the amazing commitment of my husband of 47 years, Bob Umlas. I want to share what he wrote a while back when asked to explain his very unusual behavior in our marriage. So I’m happy to introduce you to Bob Umlas, Excel Guru and the longest celebrated Microsoft MVP of 21 years, and total romantic!

- from a very grateful Judy Umlas 


My wife Judy was the presenter at a public event that I attended recently, in which she spoke about the first book she wrote, The Power of Acknowledgment. At one point, Judy asked me to speak about why I have written her love letters every Monday and every Thursday for the past ten years, and I was happy to share this with the 75+ attendees. Aside from the obvious better connection to each other, I find it affords me time to think about what I want to say so it comes out right. I write about what I noticed or admired and would usually not say something about, and then I can re-read it and make it accurate. I can add my feelings — something I also do not usually speak. So writing is actually easier.

When I share something accurately, I feel better myself, knowing the communication is one which always brings us closer. It’s not only acknowledgments or compliments, but it’s shared feelings as well. (And it’s certainly an opportunity for those compliments!) It also gives me the opportunity to share things that happened during the day to or for me which I either enjoyed or perhaps didn’t enjoy. Sometimes it includes a reminder, like “don’t forget to arrange for yada yada or to call so and so…” but that’s not at all what it’s about.

Knowing I do it every Monday and Thursday also has me focus on my wife during my work day and that makes my work day better, anyway! When it’s not writing, but it’s speaking, something in the background might catch my attention or my wife may make a comment or the content will remind her of something else, which will take the focus off what was just being spoken and the conversation is moved in a different direction, with perhaps the initial focus being forever lost. When writing, that never happens. If the phone rings or someone comes into my office, I put the writing aside and when I can come back to it, I’m reminded exactly of where I left off, so the focus stays on point and the communication is completed and on track. That’s rare when speaking.

I can’t imagine stopping this twice-a-week connection. When we’re physically together again, one of us reads the letter to the other and we can then expand on aspects of what was written but we return to the letter and can complete it. It’s truly wonderful.  I advise everyone to give it a try!  Once when Judy was delivering a corporate training session, one of the participants followed up with her to find out if I would coach him to write love letters to his wife and, of course, I did. He was very appreciative and I was told his wife was very grateful, too. For any of you out there reading this blog post, love letter writing coaching is available by reaching out to Judy at judy.umlas@iil.com and she will connect us. I am happy to share this valuable practice with anyone who wants to enhance their relationship!



The Giving of Thanks and Gratitude on the Special Day … and Every Day!


by Judith W. Umlas

I totally enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, when here in the United States we prepare great foods that take time, energy, focus and yes…love! We also make a point of giving thanks and expressing gratitude to family and friends, to colleagues and customers…in short, to the world! Practically every email I have received this week has ended in some expression of good wishes for the upcoming holiday. But I would propose a new, global and remarkable holiday that takes place not once a year, but EVERY day of every year. We can call it Gratitude Monday, Gratitude Tuesday, etc. Or everyone can end their emails the way I now do, thanks to the inventiveness, creativity and commitment of Xavier Joly, HR Business Partner,  Bayer CropScience in Lyon, France. He recently brought Grateful Leadership into his company and he now closes all of his emails this way:  “The Grateful Journey has begun!”
With his permission, I have started doing the same and you can, too! Take the opportunity on Thanksgiving and on every day to acknowledge someone in a profound, heartfelt way that truly makes a difference. Don’t be afraid to express the gratitude that lives in your heart. Don’t let acknowledgments live in your brain; instead, become conscious of these beautiful and precious “gifts” and then deliver them, even if it makes you feel vulnerable to do so. Vulnerability is a virtue!

So on this Thanksgiving holiday and every day, I express my gratitude to all of you who have courageously begun “The Grateful Journey” with us at IIL. Enjoy, celebrate and appreciate your friends and your family — not just this holiday, but on the new holiday we are co-creating, which takes place each and every day!

“The Grateful Journey has begun!”  

IIL Presents Pascal Cassecuelle, Head of Region International, Bayer Environmental Science with 6th Acknowledgment Ambassador Award in 8 Years!


Acknowledgment Ambassador Award 211014

Since IIL published The Power of Acknowledgment in 2006, there have been a small but outstanding group of people who have truly embraced and embodied The Power of Acknowledgment and Grateful Leadership. In 2008, IIL determined that a select number of extremely deserving people should be given an Acknowledgment Ambassador Award and the first such award was then created and bestowed. Since that time, only five others have received it, and the most recent one is Pascal Cassecuelle at a surprise ceremony in Lyon, France which I had the honor of attending. People said they had never seen Pascal “speechless,” but indeed he was when he discovered that he was the recipient of this very deserved honor!

IIL’s CEO, Founder and President, E. LaVerne Johnson and I signed the proclamation, and I presented it to Pascal at the conclusion of the second of two, day long sessions on Grateful Leadership which I led in Lyon. Here is an excerpt from the Award, and you can see the whole document here (link):

Whereas Pascal Cassecuelle, Head of Region International, Bayer Environmental Science,  has recognized the need and demonstrated the commitment to bringing the power of acknowledgment and grateful leadership as key leadership tools to his organization and to others for the purpose of enhancing and solidifying their cultures of appreciation and recognizing the value every human being has to offer;and he has taken a lead role in motivating his colleagues to fully and purposefully use this tool to achieve positive and powerful results throughout their professional and personal lives;

…International Institute for Learning (IIL) hereby proclaims Pascal Cassecuelle as the sixth official IIL Acknowledgment Ambassador, on 21 October, 2014. IILherebyrecognizes Pascal’s heartfelt desire to create the most positive attitude possible in the workplace by using and teaching others to use the principles of acknowledgment and Grateful Leadership.  IIL recognizes, acknowledges and celebrates his commitment, enthusiasm, determination and courage in creating and carrying out this initiative.

Gokhan Vergon, Head of EMA for Environmental Science

Gilberto Neto, Head of Latin America for Environmental Science

Judy Umlas, IIL Senior Vice President, Author, Trainer Publisher

Leading the course was such a pleasure, given that I had worked with Xavier Joly, HR Business Partner – Region International BCS / Environmental Science at his previous global company, and had been so impressed with his leadership model that he became one of the Grateful Leaders profiled in IIL and McGraw-Hill’s book on the subject.

Xavier made the Grateful Leadership workshop a part of BayerCropScience People Strategy that he was instrumental in bringing to life at Environmental Science and turning into meaningful action for employees, soon after taking this position. And the results based on evaluations and follow up emails have been quite outstanding! All of this developed with the enthusiastic support of Gunnar Riemann, Member of the Bayer CropScience Executive Committee & President of the Environmental Science Division Worldwide. Here is what he wrote to people who were going to be participating in the classes, and I could not have asked for a better introduction:

The objective of this workshop is to empower all of us in giving acknowledgment and, through that, developing our leadership. Indeed, acknowledging our employees consists in being grateful for others’ personality, contribution, accomplishments; being grateful for who they are and how they are, which will enable us to enhance dramatically their levels of engagement, commitment and support.

Through this one-day workshop, Judith Umlas will give us the keys to unleash a whole new level of personal commitment and dedication. At the end of this workshop, each of us will then become ambassadors of the power of acknowledgment, with the responsibility to model true acknowledgment behaviour, this way inspiring others to do the same and to want to dramatically increase their levels of contribution to the organization, making the power of acknowledgment transformational.

This is the true goal of Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment: to empower others to become ambassadors of the power of acknowledgment. And Pascal walks the walk without a doubt. It is clear from knowing him that he will carry this work forward and help Bayer build a true culture of appreciation, along with Xavier Joly and Gunnar Riemann and all of the wonderful people who participated in the classes.

Ă  bientĂ´t,

“The Grateful Journey has begun!” (signature created by Xavier Joly which he uses on his emails and which I now use, with his permission, on all of mine! Thanks, Xavier!)

Judy Umlas

International Institute for Learning, Inc.

Senior Vice President, Author, Trainer
Publisher, IIL Publishing and allPM.com
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