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.

à bientôt,

“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
110 East 59th Street, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (212) 515-5154
Fax: (845) 365-3629
Mobile: (845) 596-3508

Follow me on Twitterwww.twitter.com/poa_JudithUmlas

“Like” me on Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/GratefulLeadership
Visit my Blog!www.GratefulLeadership.com



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 atjudy.umlas@iil.com, 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 www.GratefulLeadership.com) 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 tojudy.umlas@iil.com 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.