Few things are more powerful than a vision


Several years ago, I was brought to MD Anderson Cancer Center to teach a course in Grateful Leadership. At the end of the course, a self-organized committee of participants was actually formed to see how this work could be deployed to ALL of MD Anderson. I was thrilled and touched by how deeply this work had been recognized as both life and work altering. One woman, Kathryn R. Kest, PMP, DTM, Associate IT Project Manager, Information Technology Services,  in particular stepped forth and told me that she had found her life’s purpose and her work through this course, and that she would do everything she could to drive it forward throughout her organization. Well, the great news is that though the project was postponed at MD Anderson due to reorganization at that time, Kathy continuously marched forward, one step at a time. This spring we co-led a one day Grateful Leadership course for Toastmasters, an organization that Kathy is extremely active in and well-recognized by. We had to turn people away due to the large numbers who wanted to register. Normally a first training would be for about a dozen people. We had over 100 due to Kathy’s great enthusiasm and stature in the organization. I was totally inspired by her, and was moved to tears by an email she received right after the course from a participant. He wrote:

Your genuine passion and knowledge of the Grateful Leadership program shined through during your presentation. This coupled with your honest candor drove your message home, hitting me (and I am sure others) on a very personal level. How did this make me feel? I am still searching for right words. Confused, enlightened, moved, vulnerable, challenged are a few that come to mind. Before this weekend I would have said recognition and acknowledge were the same. And I was fairly good at recognition. Now I know there is a distinct difference between the two, with acknowledgment being more personalized, heartfelt, and sincere. This mindset shift is going to take me some time and practice to master. But, because of you I have started to see the real impact I can have on other people, and myself, by showing true appreciation. Thank you for this gift.”  ~Glen Hamilton

Kathy, you have given us all the gift of creating a powerful vision and stepping forward into it, no matter what the obstacles and challenges. You are an inspiration to us all, and we at IIL know your continuous commitment to the Grateful Leadership initiative will create amazing results and rewards for all who come in contact with you. Congratulations!

kksest blg

Acknowledged and Appreciated…Just in Time!


At a keynote address I gave to Toastmasters Regional Conference in Houston, Texas this spring, I was very taken by the story shared by a participant, Rennette Lucien, English teacher and Debate Coach, at Jack Yates High School.  In fact, I was so taken by it that I asked to write it up for all of us afterward. And this is what she said: 

“I work at an inner city school in Houston, Texas and at the end of the school year, one of our special education teachers had requested to move to another campus and this was approved. I was told that she had asked for the transfer because she didn’t feel appreciated here and that the environment was not one where she felt happy and content. As a show of appreciation for what she had truly accomplished with her scholars, her department hosted a going-away  reception for her. At the reception, colleagues gave her gifts and expressed their appreciation for the work she had done because it was quite evident in the progress of the scholars. They thanked her for being a team player and a valued person in the special education department. Because of the love she received on that day, she rescinded her transfer. Now the catch to this is that the receiving principal did not want to let her rescind because it would leave the school with a hard to fill position. After some days, she agreed to release her from her transfer, though, because the principal did not want an unhappy teacher on her campus! WOW! ”  

And “WOW” is really the appropriate exclamation to use here. MOST stories like this one DON’T have such a happy ending. I know this to be true because I asked as a survey question in IIL’s Grateful Leadership On Demand course how many of the thousands of registrants had ever left a job due to lack of appreciation. The number was astounding! In fact, I will be publishing the results of this and two other survey questions that I posed in the next few weeks. Once people decide to leave a job or a company due to lack of appreciation, they are gone and that is the sad end to their — and our — story. 

I was delighted to hear this moving example of a woman who was big-hearted enough to allow the last minute appreciation and acknowledgment in, in spite of her previous experiences, and to let it change the outcome she had already committed to. And I commend the Principal who preferred to lose a valued candidate over having an unhappy one on her staff. 

But let’s not let it get to the point that our people leave due to lack of appreciation! We can all take action now and let those we value and care about know the wonderful difference that they make — to us, to our teams, to our organizations and communities.

Until the next time…


And the winner is….Tom Kiley, Project Leader, Sandvik Special Metals!!!

During my keynote presentation for International Project Management Day 2015, “From Cowardly Lion to Lionhearted Leader,” I spoke about the need to summon up our courage in order to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge people in a heartfelt and authentic way. Here’s what I invited those in attendance (thousands of people) to do:

“Take a moment now… and think about what stops you from really opening your heart to your people. (I think I can “feel” you squirming as I ask you this…) But just jot down at least a few of the thoughts, feelings, ideas and words that describe the “excuses” you use for withholding what most makes your people come alive. And here’s an offer for you: the most creative “excuse” will earn you an hour of free coaching from “yours truly” if you email it to me at judy.umlas@iil.com. But it has to be authentic or it doesn’t count!”

Quite a few of you took me up on that offer! What was amazing about just about all of them is how “logical” and “creative” they are. They dramatically and truthfully represent what we all do to stop ourselves from opening our hearts and letting others know their value to the team or to the whole organization. Think of what it would mean in our workplaces, our families and our communities if we could just “thank” our minds for sharing, for being so clever, and then acknowledge the person or people anyway!

Our team read through all of the responses, and had trouble coming up with the “best” one, because they were all so good. But with some difficulty, we finally chose this winning “excuse” from Tom Kiley, Project leader at Sandvik Special Metals:

FIRST PRIZE!  “I was trained in the US Navy to refrain from fraternization, in order to maintain order with shipmates, especially after promotions to higher positions.  I’ve taken that into the civilian workspaces, and it’s very hard to break.  And, ironically, the Navy core values I learned were Honor, Courage and Commitment!”

TK Award Final2

We can all empathize with Tom, I’m sure. He was trained to refrain, so how can he break that inhibiting habit? Well, of the prizes we offered him, Tom chose one hour of personal coaching with Yours Truly. I am thrilled with his choice, because it shows that he wants to change this habit and make a true difference in his workplace, to have his people feel valued and appreciated. When I informed him that he was the winner, he was both surprised and pleased. He showed me the photo of the poster of the 5 C’s that he had put on his office wall to remind him on a daily basis to acknowledge people. So we can all applaud him for his honest effort and willingness to change.IMG_1527 (002)

I couldn’t resist sharing some of the other “excuses” people submitted, because they were so creative and interesting! The ones cited below will all receive Honorable Mentions in our unusual contest and receivers of this “prestigious prize” get to choose a print edition of any of the three books on acknowledgment I have written! 

HONORABLE MENTION #1 Ameera Ashrof-O’Neil, Leed Green Associate Senior Project Manager  AA HM2

“I tend to have issues with smells and there are times when the staff may give off a smell I can’t function around. It makes it difficult to speak with them in person and though I have complimented via email, it doesn’t appear genuine because it’s difficult to be around them. I feel (and their body language suggest) it sends mixed signals and there is an awkwardness in interactions.”

Don’t you just love how creative that one was? We all have our versions of these, but we can just recognize them and deliver the acknowledgment anyway. Ameera has agreed to work on that, even though it is a very, very good excuse!

HONORABLE MENTION #2 Shelli Underhill-Shopp, PMP®


“In the company that I used to be in some time ago, a telecommunications company which is not in business anymore, I communicated in front of a group how I appreciated that leadership that was provided by our very high level organization manager in Switching Systems, and I was told by other women that I shouldn’t do that because it appeared that I was being flirtatious…..” This one is a real “ouch” – but Shelli and the rest of us need to be courageous and not worry so much about how we are perceived by others for this kind of heartfelt and courageous behavior. Let these others see how energetic, loyal and engaged our team members are and wonder how that happened…

Summary: So let’s all be CONSCIOUS of how counterproductive our good excuses are, and have the COURAGE to thank our minds for sharing, and then do what we know will make a different to the people we value and care about. Let that be our COMMITMENT!

My personal thanks to all who submitted these wonderful excuses, and to the winners for being brave enough to make themselves vulnerable, loveable and real! Congratulations to you all!

The Power of Seeing and Being Seen

Side profile of a mid adult man talking with a young woman

It has been reported that in some African tribes, when one tribesperson sees another, they greet them with “I see you!”  And the response is “I am here!”   What a powerful interchange that is – it’s one we all need to remember. The story below was related to me by a participant in IIL’s Grateful Leadership Interactive On Demand Course, in response to the exercise: Acknowledging Yourself and Then Getting Feedback. Here’s the story submitted by Kim F., PMP who has given her permission to have me share this with you.

“My daughter and I acknowledged a customer service rep at my credit union for speaking directly to me, assisting me with my transactions, and looking directly at me while thanking me for being a long-time customer. You see, most people overlook a person in a wheelchair and speak directly to the person pushing the wheelchair as if the rider in the chair (in this case, me) is invisible. I am grateful that she acknowledged me as a person and both my daughter and I let her know that we deeply appreciated this.”

What a beautiful and instructive story for us all! Thank you Kim, for underlining the importance of truly seeing and being seen by each other, no matter where we sit!

Until the next time…

Judy Umlas

From “Judy’s Believe it or Not”: Grateful Leadership makes excellent beach reading…and a honeymoon pastime!


As warmer weather approaches, at least in this part of the world, I thought I would call your attention to a note that I received after co-leading a Grateful Leadership Book Club session with Michelle Madsen, Delivery Specialist at Volvo Group University and IIL Certified Grateful Leadership Instructor, at Volvo Construction Equipment last year.

Here’s the lovely note that Eric Russell, Financial Analyst, wrote to me following our exciting get together with about 40 of his colleagues:

Hi Judy!

I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to speak with all of us up at the Volvo Customer Center today.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can say that it was a wonderful experience for myself.  Reading your book has opened a new perspective for me and I’ve been trying to work and become a “Grateful Leader” since reading your book a few weeks ago on my Honeymoon 🙂.  I took it along figuring I would read a couple pages here and there throughout my trip, never did I expect to be on the beach reading 30-40 pages at a time.  With each new story I became sucked further and further in. 

I never realized how good it felt to actually give the acknowledgment.  Earlier this morning I acknowledged a fellow co-worker (without actually realizing I was doing it) and after I came back to my desk and sat down I realized what I had just done and thought of your book.  Later in the day I actually sat next to this person at our lunch and learn and I wasn’t sure if she realized I had acknowledged her or not.  When you brought up the question/survey of “Who here has been acknowledged at work in the past day, week or year?” she put a big smile on and proudly raised her hand and told me she was thankful for the acknowledgment earlier that morning.  The feeling I received, knowing that she felt great about being acknowledged was amazing and I attribute that to you and your writing.  I hope to continue this going forward, not just in my work environment but anytime that someone deserves to be acknowledged.

I hope to keep in touch and continue reading what you have to write.  Safe travels back home!

PS: I hope you were able to handle driving that massive Articulated Hauler around the customer center. (She was!!)

Best Regards,


When I recently asked Eric if he was still happily married (I was a bit concerned, as well as delighted, with how he chose to spend his honeymoon), he reassured me with this response:A whopping 9 months later and I’m still happily married! :)”

He also told me he was still putting the Grateful Leadership Initiative to good use, both in his personal and professional lives. Eric, thanks for giving one of the most unusual and best “book reviews” we have ever gotten!

So this season, get those beach bags ready for this real page-turner!