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




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




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 and she will connect us. I am happy to share this valuable practice with anyone who wants to enhance their relationship!



An Attitude of Gratitude — The Law of Reciprocity at Work



By Myles Miller

 “Of all the attitudes we can acquire, surely the Attitude of Gratitude is the most important and by far the most life changing.”  — Zig Ziglar

What has become the focus of a self-centered society and might ultimately be its downfall is the belief that one can stand on one’s own and not need or rely on any one else to achieve success in their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the quote above reflects, we have an opportunity to engage with our world each and every day. Not only should we, but we must take the initiative to perform a simple act that could have far reaching potential. In fact this act, which should be performed more frequently each day, creates a great potential for the entire human race.

While this thought may sound grandiose or irrelevant depending on your perspective and degree of connection to humanity around you, it can be transformative in nature to what each day of your life and the lives of those around you can and will become.

Do you have goals and ambitions? Do you want more of whatever you desire and seem to struggle to acquire it a level of achievement that would satisfy you?

All this and more creates an environment where people can thrive and grow into all that they wish to become. But this requires a refocused and redefined approach to each and every human interaction we have in our lives — those who are closest to us and those that we may only meet in passing.

In Judy Umlas’ book, “The Power of Acknowledgment,” similar ideas and insights are shared that would help anyone understand how to acknowledge others and show them gratitude for even the smallest acts. Judy’s other books, “Grateful Leadership” and “You’re Totally Awesome” echo the same themes and ideas as well.

These ideas are not difficult to implement but with conscious effort and resolve to make a difference in one’s life and those around them, they can be accomplished in short fashion.

Now while these may all seem like good ideas, they are grounded in actual proven facts of a law, known as the Law of Reciprocity. This law states that when one positive action is done to someone, that person wants to do the same or similar positive action to that person or to others. Some have referred to this law as an idea related to “paying it forward.”

How does each of these elements tie together and how can you implement this practice each day in your interaction with the human race?

Start with your perception of humanity in general. We all have at the heart of who we are the will and capability to see others with caring and a willingness to acknowledge that they exist. What gets in the way is our busy-ness of life, where we seem to ignore or forget that others matter as much or more than we do in many cases. So start with a shift in how you see the world. Change the paradigm in your mind from, “What can they do for me?” to “What can I do for them?” It is a shift from a selfish attitude to one that is selfless.

This concept can be taught to others at a young age and can be adopted to be implemented in one’s adult life as well.

For me, one frequent application of this idea is to take time to acknowledge those who do anything for me, great or small. When they have performed any task or come through in some way. I take the time publicly, in meetings and privately, through notes of thanks sent and given to people often. It takes but a few minutes but has a short and long term effect that motivates and greats even greater results.

So, here are some ideas to try each day: find one person who you can do something for without any expectation of them doing something in return. Buy that person in line behind you a cup of coffee. Send someone on your team a note just to thank them for what they have done recently in their day-to-day efforts related to nothing done for you directly. Don’t wait for a special occasion to send someone a gift; let them know how much you care about them other than on their birthday or anniversary. Every time you see a person with a name tag in any service industry, use their name and thank them for their service. You could do this once, twice, three times a day or more. In fact, if you try this over the next 30 days, each day practicing just once or more, you will find in time that you will begin to want to do it more and more, making the “Power of Acknowledgment” and the Law of Reciprocity almost subconscious acts in every aspect of your life.

So begin today. Be grateful for what you have each day, be grateful for those around you, those you know and those who you have yet to meet. Then take the next step and acknowledge them in some way. Do something unexpected and watch what happens. The Law of Reciprocity will happen over and over again. People will begin to do more and more for others, and one person at a time doing more for others will create a state in which the world can and will change.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi


The Great Result of Asking People How They Want to be Acknowledged

HR Happy Holidays 2013

Emily Robinson-Endert, SPHR Director of Human Resources at Covenant Woods, and a participant in one of IIL’s Grateful Leadership webinars, recently shared this simple, yet effective strategy with our group during one of our sessions. After hearing it I was filled with joy. Therefore, I asked Emily if she would mind writing up her strategy for all of us.

Much to my delight, she agreed to do so…

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! :)

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Grateful (and Potentially Grateful) Leaders

if_not_now_2beditedTraditionally, the idea of a “meeting” is to gather a group for a specific purpose, whether it be business-related or otherwise. But let’s be honest…attention is not always 100%. Some people check and send text messages (I feel these people need forgiveness and behavioral therapy, if not recovery programs), others daydream or think of shopping lists, and some, like artist Michael Indorato, sketch.

During a recent meeting, Michael’s unconscious heard the words “if not now, then when?” Almost immediately, his artistic spirit was moved and inspired to create the drawing you see to the left. I happened to see his sketch at the end of the very same meeting, and asked him if he thought it could apply to Acknowledgment. To my delight, he was in total alignment with this, and added that heading to the sketch for all of us to consider and (hopefully) take to heart.

I truly believe that as 2013 ends and the New Year approaches, we MUST take this message to heart. In fact, I believe it is the cornerstone of the following 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Grateful (or Potentially Grateful) Leaders. So here they are:

Finding a Platform for Our Passion … and Being Grateful For It

A few years ago, our publishing team was trying to find the right title for the book that McGraw-Hill and IIL were co-publishing about acknowledgment. All of my previous training work and speaking engagements had been titled “Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment,” based on the first book, The Power of Acknowledgment. Because of this, I quite naturally assumed it would also become the title of the next book. However, when the suggestion of Grateful Leadership was thrown into the ring, goose bumps shot from my head to my toes. That, for me, was the Truth Test. I knew it was right and jumped on it!

gratefulSo what do you do when you think you have a perfect title? Of course, you Google it. Admittedly, I did so with my eyes partially closed, because I didn’t want to see the zillions of books, articles, blog posts, etc. with those words in them. I didn’t want to have to give up on it. But imagine my shock (and delight) to have gotten what is known as a “Googlewhack”—a “Google search query consisting of exactly two words without quotation marks, that returns exactly one hit,” as Wikipedia puts it. It was a NASA blog post about how people should remember to be grateful leaders on Thanksgiving! Following this, Grateful Leadership was happily accepted by the IIL team and McGraw-Hill.

What is the Connection Between Grateful Leadership/Grateful Employees and Project Management?

boothThis post is based on one of the questions I received during the live Q&A following my keynote address, From Great Kids to Grateful Leaders, at IIL’s International Project Management Day (IPMDay). The question was asked by Megan Mason of Comcast. There were about 2,500 people present for that live follow up to the pre-recorded program, with — based on registrations — a potential audience of about another 60,000!

I want to present some delightful evidence of the way in which Grateful Leadership leads to Grateful Employees supporting project success. Here’s is how I answered Megan’s question during the live Q&A:

Gratitude, appreciation and acknowledgment are essential for maximum project team performance. When people don’t experience being valued they are often not motivated to do their best. They remain unengaged or even worse, disengaged (according to the Gallup Organization categories).

I like to make the evidence for this as tangible and as real as possible. Therefore, I cited the huge amount of work that a multitude of IIL teams perform each and every year to bring you International Project Management Day. The work starts about a week after the previous event, meaning now our people have about three days and counting to start planning International Project Management Day 2014, and always with both great success stories and the lessons learned.

All along the way, our people get acknowledged for their contributions, cheered for their successes, and even congratulated for their risk taking. So in this spirit, I want to share the delightful poem that was sent around to all team members on every IIL project team that created such a phenomenal project success this year. With the permission of Lori Milhaven, Executive Vice President, Marketing, I now share it proudly with you! Thanks, Lori!