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!

A Dream Come True!

A decade ago, The Power of Acknowledgment was published (© 2006 IIL Publishing) and many unpredicted “miracles” began to occur almost immediately, once I was given the assignment as the book’s author, to lead webinars and conduct training sessions for IIL on this important soft skills Leadership topic. Participants came from around the globe, and reported transformation in all aspects of life, sometimes reporting breakthroughs even during a session I was conducting. But one of the biggest long-term miracles and “wins” occurred when Patricia Rife-Beavers, Ph.D., Collegiate Professor, PMAN Program University of Maryland University College Graduate School, somehow received a copy of the book on her desk. No one even knows or remembers how it got there, but it was a perfect “landing.” Dr. Rife-Beavers read it, and immediately made it required reading by the UMUC students in the Graduate Program in Project Management, for the various sections of its Project Communications courses. I tracked her down and we spoke about how important this message was for adult learners, people who were for the most part already in the workforce. UMUC is an outstanding example of the huge success of online learning and Graduate School degree programs..

So years went by, and from time to time, Dr. Rife-Beavers and other professors teaching the course would send me questions from the students about the book, and we decided that webinars offered to all of those in the courses would be a great next step. It was utterly delightful to teach those who were already totally onboard with the power of acknowledgment, just from reading the book. One student reported that it was the best “textbook” he had ever read — and I had to laugh with pleasure. The “textbook” is 112 pages, easy to read and according to readers, totally transformational. Many of the students insisted on calling me Dr. Umlas, and even when I corrected them, they said “Okay, Dr. Umlas.” With permissions from several students, I got to read papers written by them about the book, with references to this work and others that touched on the importance of the message. What an amazing experience for this author!

Then last year, Dr. Rife introduced me to Sylvia Henri-Wonasue, Director of UMUC Multicultural Training and Programming, Office of Diversity and Equity, and she invited me to lead a Grateful Leadership Keynote to celebrate Women’s History Month! What a pleasure! The event, which was presented in partnership with the University System of Maryland Women’s Forum and Women in Maryland Higher Education, was amazing. About 150 people filled the room, which was festively decorated. Beforehand, I had told Sylvia that IIL was going to present Dr. Patricia-Rife Beavers with one of its rare IIL Acknowledgment Ambassador Awards (this was only the 9th one awarded in the past decade). You as readers can take a look at the award below, which I was totally delighted to present to a unique individual  who so fully embraced this message. She has had it truly take root in thousands of students’ educations, workplaces and lives. IIL’s gratitude toward her is huge and ongoing. She has never let it go…not for a moment, even in the face of many academic challenges and reorganizations. In response to receiving the award, Dr. Rife-Beavers said:

                  “Many, many sincere and humble thank you’s for this recognition.  The Graduate School PMAN638 “Project Communications Management” courses have 150 enrolled each semester x three semesters a year: we are hence averaging approximately 450 readers of The Power of Acknowledgment each year since 2007!  I am a truly “grateful” leader of these powerful managerial student leaders completing their PMAN Masters Degrees worldwide via UMUC online 12 week courses.”

What I was totally unprepared for was having Dr. Javier Miyares, President of UMUC, come to the session, sit at a table right in front of me, even laugh at my occasionally “funny” stories, and then present me with a UMUC Appreciation Award! It was an amazing day, and the sharing by the attendees was inspirational. This was indeed a dream come true — for our committed educational partners who believe so sincerely in the power of this message….for IIL…and most certainly for me. Here’s to many more decades of working together to create a state of appreciation and acknowledgment throughout the world.!


Judy Umlas Presenting President Javier Miyares with an autographed copy of Grateful Leadership after accepting the UMUC Appreciation award from him.

Certificate of Appreciation


Judy Umlas presenting Dr. Patricia Rife-Beavers with the Acknowledgment Ambassador award.


Attendees seated for the Women’s Forum


Judy gets “comfy” interviewing Sylvia Henri-Wonasue, who made it all happen, following the presentation”

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Judy Umlas and Dr. Patricia Rife-Beavers.

Random Acts Of Kindness Day


In honor of today being “National Random Act of Kindness Day,” I share this wonderful example of such an act with you! Sabrina Harmon is Senior Training Program Manager for  SourceAmerica, one of the country’s leading sources of job opportunities for people with significant disabilities. She has led one membership-offered Book Club on Grateful Leadership, and another on The Power of Acknowledgment. As a result of this, it is clear that she has “caught the fever!” I am happy to report her wonderful example of this that she recounted in a recent email to me:

“I want you to know that I have been busy acknowledging people all over the place!!!  It’s wonderful for the receiver as well as the giver!!!  I was at the grocery store and asked if a cashier lane was open.  A young woman said, “My lane is open; the light is not working.” I replied, “But, I can see the light of your smile and it’s certainly bright!”  She just beamed after that comment and was much more engaged with me.  Love, love, love it.” 

I find this “random act of kindness” both awesome and amazing! I’m so proud of Sabrina, and all of you  who take the opportunity to change someone’s day — and maybe their life — with an acknowledgment!!!

Acknowledging the “Unseen” for their Contributions!

Before the holidays, I asked IIL VP of Worldwide Distribution Steve Osborn for the home address of someone in our company who had truly gone above and beyond for the Grateful Leadership initiative, and to whom I was extremely grateful. I thought that a gift would be the best way to express my gratitude. Instead, Steve then suggested that I consider all of the “unseen” people who worked tirelessly to make the Grateful Leadership courses, eLearning programs, materials, the gift packages available for people in order to help make the difference it has been our intention to make. These people, he said, are unseen, but their work is absolutely necessary to the success of this effort! And what was I going to do about this “condition”?


Hmmm…I wondered.  What would I do about it in the context of “walking the walk” and not just talking the talk? This was becoming a familiar theme for me by now, but one I hadn’t recognized as taking place in our own company. In a wonderful book called The Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo wrote this in one of the passages: “I See You! …I Am Here!” was the title of it.  “For centuries,” he wrote, people “have greeted each other in this way. When one becomes aware of his brother or sister coming out of the bush, he exclaims, ‘I See You!’ and then the one approaching rejoices, ‘I Am Here!’ This timeless bearing witness is both simple and profound… for with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence to say, ‘I Am Here.’” When I read this beautiful passage, it spoke of the critical nature of seeing people – of acknowledging their value, their gifts and their talents. But how was I to acknowledge those I could not see?


Another example of this had occurred when I led a Grateful Leadership webinar for a Scandinavian company recently, and a participant named Knut shared that there is a Norwegian expression: “Det er viktig å bli sett” eller “Viktigheten av å bli sett,” which means “the importance of being seen.” Knut said, “Everyone needs to see and be seen…recognition, appreciation and feedback are important for each and every one to maintain a sense of humanity, personal worth and the feeling of being part of the surrounding social groups.” I thought this was totally correct, but I had missed it where it truly mattered – at “home,” in my own company!

But how was I going to be able to see…and acknowledge the unseen supporters of this important work in a place that I don’t work on a day-to-day basis? At the suggestion of the VP, I spoke with Melina Africa, Production and Administrative Support Manager at IIL Worldwide Distribution there. “Who are the unseen supporters of Grateful Leadership?” I asked. I now wanted to acknowledge each and every one of them, even though I hadn’t really thought about them (shame on me) a lot previously. Here’s what Melina had to say:

“I think I am a Grateful Leader,” she said a bit tentatively at first. “I know absolutely I couldn’t get the major projects we do at a moment’s notice for IIL companies and customers around the world, without our whole team. Just this week we got an order for IIL Printing on Friday afternoon that had to be completed and shipped and delivered by Monday morning, and everyone worked until the job got done. I know they would do anything for this company!” I started getting a guilt attack, but encouraged her to say more. “If even one of them were gone, I would be dead in the water. The team starts answering my emails and fielding phone calls when they know I can’t come up for air. The administrative group drops everything to come help out on IIL Printing jobs whenever needed. The virtual team was here all weekend to help support a pilot for a new client. The sales team tirelessly makes phone calls and helps our customers with their educational needs. The FedEx driver, Eddy, waits as long as he possibly can for our packages so that we don’t have to drive them hours away to St. Louis. They are all just amazing people, and almost no one ever sees or knows of their existence.”

I was shocked by my own lack of appreciation of all of these tireless, committed, loyal and happy workers. So I decided to express it tangibly, and sent a whole bunch of chocolate covered strawberries, which, I am told, were gobbled up in about 60 seconds! I included a heartfelt note that expressed my gratitude and appreciation to the IIL Monett team for all their hard work that goes essentially unnoticed.

So here are some of the wonderful people who work night and day to support all of us who benefit from IIL’s transformational Grateful Leadership initiative, and all the other wonderful courses and products that IIL offers.

Join me, please, in thanking and appreciating and expressing our gratitude to all of these wonderful people.  And learn from my mistakes and do seek the unseen in your organization, family or community…and acknowledge them for what they contribute to your life and work!

Monett Team Final


Why Did It Require Four Takes?

Why Did it Require Four “Takes” for me to Successfully Read the Ending of the Grateful Leadership On Demand Course in the TV Studio?

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Let me begin the New Year with an ending. It was the ending of the Grateful Leadership Video Interactive On Demand 6-Hour Course. I had worked on the course for months in order to get it ready to offer as a “giveaway” to all attendees of IIL’s International Project Management Day 2015 Conference. 15,000 people had registered for the Conference, and of these 3,878 people (by the latest count), had signed up for my course. I was thrilled and nervous. We were working feverishly to complete the all-video, highly interactive course in time for the launch date of the conference, November 5th. I had been in the studio for three consecutive days, and there was still a lot of editing, video inserts to put in, etc. to follow, in order for it to be up and running.

It all went amazingly smoothly, and I in spite of my highly self-critical nature, I was pretty happy with the results. And then I got to the end of the taping session: the conclusion of the course. The words were simple, and came directly from my heart. They read:

“So we conclude this presentation by telling you to GO GRATEFUL! Have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, and the passion to grow.  

As you bring this initiative to your teams, to your management, to your janitors and washroom attendants, your customers, your suppliers, to your families, your friends, your governments and to your communities, you will make a huge difference. And the world will be better for it. Thanks for being with us for Grateful Leadership! I’m grateful to you for being here. I’m Judy Umlas.” 

During Take 1, I started sniffling in the middle of the last paragraph. “Cut!” yelled the normally very patient and supportive producer. And we started Take 2. Same deal. I couldn’t get through the words without weeping. Why, I asked myself, was this happening? And then I realized what it was: these words encompassed my vision for the world – how I truly wanted it to be. How IIL had so generously supported this mission for the past decade! How I saw that it actually COULD be, and I was moved – yes, moved to tears by the possibility I was putting into language. It was my intention to have this initiative change the world!

Take three– same deal. And finally the cameraman with a huge heart said, when I finished that take, tears and all: “Why don’t we go with that one? It’s real, it’s honest, and it’s you!” I agreed… and I didn’t. I summoned up my strength and said, “Let’s keep those takes but also get one that is just as heartfelt, but less emotional. Some people might be put off by what they consider to be too great a display of feelings.” And since my ultimate goal was to expose and promulgate this message to the world, I did not want to take the chance of turning anyone away. So I did it again, this time with the help of a no-nonsense production manager who firmly said I needed to get this version done, and that was it! Once completed, it was decided that we would go with this less emotional version, but I always kind of wondered which one was the right one.

Well, judging from the response we got, I know the ending we went with worked just fine. So on Day 1 (the launch) of the conference, which started at 9:00 am in North America, I was anxiously waiting to see if anyone would even sign up for this course. At 8:57 am I got this message:

“I just sent a note (actually before you go to the point where you asked for one) to a person who mans the front desk at our IT facility.  This woman is amazing and so positive. And she is the first face everyone sees when they arrive at the building. I have known her for years, but always took for granted what she provided for every individual entering the building. 

This course is amazing as it brings to our consciousness what we really ought to do every day.  Interestingly enough, I have a person who I find it more difficult to give this type of acknowledgment too, and I think I am going to try to send it to that person as well.”

I nearly jumped for joy! The IPMDay conference had not even officially yet begun in North America, and here was a woman writing to me from a huge company from Israel, who was already on Module 4 of the 5 module course. And that was just the beginning.

I am so incredibly grateful to all of the close to 4,000 people who have actively participated in the course, who have done the exercises and sent them to my email address – an option that was offered. And over the holidays, when I was sitting at my desk crying and my husband walked in, he asked with concern what was wrong. I sniffled and then explained about the slew of emails saying how great the course was, and how people were already putting it to use.

So now here’s a message for all of you who have taken the course (the rest of you can still sign up for IPMDay, and have access to this Grateful Leadership course as well as all of the presentations until the access period ends on February 3rd). So many of you have written, and I tried at first to send a note to each one of you, but couldn’t keep up. The outpouring tells me that the world is truly ready for this message, and is wanting to put it into action.

So as a result of your incredibly active participation in this course, I am now working on a proposal to have IIL develop a whole community for the Grateful Leadership initiative (the preliminary feedback is positive) and for the people who are embracing this powerful message. I welcome your ideas and suggestions for making it as active and transformational a community as we can.

So now I will admit, even though we went with the less “emotional” version of the ending to my course, that you all both deeply move me and inspire me every day with your actions and your courage! I will be sharing some of the stories you have shared with me (with permission, of course) with our newly emerging “Grateful Leadership Community.” And I am incredibly grateful for all of your active participation.

May it be a great New Year for all!

PMI Buffalo Chapter Inspired Contest and…(drumroll): The Winners!

You might remember our post in early October about the unusual Appreciation Award that Judy received from the PMI Buffalo chapter for speaking about Grateful Leadership at its Fall Professional Development Day. This is what we posted:

The first ever Judith W. Umlas Gratitude Gift goes to the PMI Buffalo Chapter, for bestowing upon her the “Most Adorable and Heaviest Appreciation Memento” she ever received in her decade of speaking engagements. As this is a new prize, she would like your suggestions as to what to give the Chapter! There will also be a prize for the commenter who comes closest to guessing the weight of the PMI Buffalo Chapter Award – it was too heavy for Judy to carry home!

As a result of these contests, we are actually going to give out multiple awards! First, we will also be sending the PMI Buffalo chapter a Grateful Leadership Gift Bundle to thank them for such an honor. What they gave Judy is a real piece of art and is most definitely appreciated and treasured!

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Next, we want to acknowledge Yves Jordan, PMP for this creative suggestion: “An option would be to send an autographed photo of you dressed like “Buffalo Bill” 🙂 The best gift would certainly be a sincere acknowledgement regarding the kind gesture and the warm welcome.” We loved both of his ideas, and present this slight modification: Judy dressed up as “Buffalo Jill”! Because we enjoyed your creative idea so much, Yves, we are pleased to award you First Prize, which is a free IPMDay 2015 registration. This includes a complimentary Grateful Leadership On Demand course and Judy’s Keynote Address, which you said you wanted to view: From Cowardly Lion to Lion-Hearted Leader.


The Buffalo Chapter will also receive a framed version of this photo, with IIL’s sincere thanks and appreciation.

The Buffalo Chapter will also receive a framed version of this photo, with IIL’s sincere thanks and appreciation.



Next, we would like to congratulate DeAnna Burghart, Product Manager and “Content Shepherd” for her guess being the farthest away from the actual weight of the Buffalo award! DeAnna guessed this: “Too heavy to carry, clearly solid bronze… I’m going to go with 45 pounds. :)” DeAnna will also receive a free IPM Day registration and Grateful Leadership On Demand course access.

And now, for the results: Drumroll please…. The Buffalo award actually weighed 5.2 pounds (I thought it weighed a lot more)!! Yves guessed 9 pounds, which is pretty close, but the person whose guess came the closest was actually Roxi Nevin, who estimated 7 pounds.


Roxi is an IIL employee, and our social media manager, so she wasn’t officially in the contest, but we would like to present her with autographed copies of Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment – both of which she requested!

Our thanks to all for your creative participation, and for your wonderful comments that led to this fun endeavor! So what’s our next contest?


How Not to Talk To a Pregnant Business Woman

Starting the Journey to Making a Difference…  

It was the following article that I wrote back in 1986 … that led to Working Woman magazine publishing it … that led to an interview (See the original interview and a guest blog I wrote on here!) with Joan Lunden on Good Morning America … that led to people telling me for years (and still telling me) the difference this piece, written out of total frustration, was to them in their workplaces… that led to the expression of my frustration about people not acknowledging each other in the workplace… that led to my writing three books on the subject… that led to my training leaders all over the world…. that led me to you! 

Here’s to the power of the powerfully expressed written word to change the world! And of course, here’s to you – the 25,000+ people around the globe who have participated in some way in this work and continue to spread… (of course) the word!

The following article was first published September of 1986 in Working Woman magazine. 

How Not to Talk to a Pregnant Business Woman

She’s just having a baby. Why do her co-workers act like they’ve just had a lobotomy? Here’s how one expectant exec learned to deal with 1,001 cutesy comments. -by Judith M. Umlas 


Illustrations by Mimi Pond

When I was two months pregnant, I made the big announcement at work. At a meeting soon after I was told, “Sit down, take it easy. We reserved a chair for you — you need it.“ I was startled and a bit put off. I didn`t even look pregnant at the time and certainly hadn`t yet come to terms with what was happening to me. At three months I was greeted with, “Hi, Puffy, howya doin` ?“ At four months, “Hey, Fatty, you look great!“ At five and six months, “Have you been stealing basketballs?“ and “Did you swallow a pumpkin seed?“ At seven and eight months, “You`re getting bigger and bigger every day!“ And throughout I answered questions such as, “When is your due date?“ and “When are you leaving?“ anywhere from five to 15 times a day.

As thrilled, excited and awed as I was by pregnancy, these comments from co-workers with whom I’d shared ideas, projects and sandwiches, in the cafeteria during my 12 years in communications were irritating. I thought I knew these people! Perhaps I was a little sensitive about the subject. Frankly, I wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of having children. I had been married for 15 years and thought of myself as a career woman. For years I would not risk combining work with motherhood. But age 35 was the turning point. I realized that I had to take the plunge or spend the rest of my life wondering, ‘What if?’. Pregnancy was an emotionally charged subject for me, and I knew it. But thinking about getting pregnant isn’t the same as dealing with being pregnant. I wasn’t prepared for the reactions I received. Once the congratulations were over, I’d naively expected to settle back into my routine and work up to my due date.

Don’t Say That Scary Word

I did feel great for most of the pregnancy. Often I forgot about being pregnant until someone reminded me. And I found the reminder jarring. I was trying hard to retain the comfortable old identity I had known for so many years: career woman. “Mother” was such an unknown. What would it do to my ambitions? To my routine? To my marriage after so many years? While I was trying to go about business as usual, my colleagues were having a ball with my new role. On one hand, I liked this. I’d always had a reputation of being a rather “starched” manager. I had been accused of not letting my hair down enough, of maintaining my stiff air of professional to executives, of whom I’d always been a bit in awe, start chatting with me about birth. As he described what the arrival of his own children had meant to him, both of us got misty eyes. His comments about the miracle of the process allowed me to see him as a complete person. Suddenly we shared an experience that connected us on a profound level.

My former boss of eight years also described his great joy at the birth of his child and talked about the “miracle”–that word kept surfacing–of children in general. I learned more about him during that one talk than in all the years of our warm, supportive professional relationship. But for better or worse, people don’t spend a lot of time talking about miracles at work. Although I loved the new level of communication my condition inspired, I still resented the lighthearted–but to me, thoughtless–remarks it evoked. 4

One “Hi, Fatty” too many

One day I decided enough was enough. After being greeted yet again with “Hi, Fatty!“ this time by a female executive whom I like very much, I stopped her, looked her boldly in the eye and said, “I don`t appreciate it when you call me that. Why are you being so tactless?“ After her first look of shock she became introspective. “I don`t know!“ she said. “How stupid of me!“

She apologized and then it seemed the proverbial light bulb went on. “I think I know why I said that,“ she stammered. “I`ve had so little contact with pregnant businesswomen. I guess I felt uncomfortable seeing you pregnant. I didn`t know what to say, so that`s what I said. How dumb!“ I could have kissed her for her honesty. Was this true of others in the workplace as well? Were they uncomfortable with the novelty of pregnancy in business? For even thought it’s fairly common for pregnant women to work right up until their babies are born and then return to their jobs, it is still new enough in some companies to cause confusion. I kept noticing that while many people asked me when I was leaving work, few asked when I would return. It was almost assumed that I would not come back, and I found myself lamely adding unsolicited comments like “It’s going to be a short leave; I will be back…”

I think she’s bigger. Do you think she’s bigger?

I knew that people weren’t deliberately trying to upset me. Obviously my insecurity about my changing role was making me oversensitive. In self-defense I began talking to other business women who were either pregnant or new mothers, and I discovered I was not alone. They all had cringed at insensitive comments made by previously normal associates who shifted in attitude toward them. One experienced professional who worked at a weekly newspaper discovered that as soon as she donned maternity clothes, her associates addressed all remarks, business or personal, to her tummy. She was rattled to find that it was not a passing phase–her colleagues continued this strange form of communication throughout her pregnancy. Another mother-to-be businesswoman was horrified to find that men who had always shown professional respect toward her thought nothing of rubbing her belly, as if an invisible wall had crumbled and she as now public property. “They wouldn’t have dared touch me before I was pregnant” she fumed. “Why should they feel it’s OK now?” An executive in the publishing industry found it got on her nerves when her co-workers, male and female, continuously made comments on her size and shape as if she were an animal at the county fair.

5I began to wonder if co-workers of pregnant women would appreciate a few pointers on how to deal with the situation. And perhaps pregnant businesswomen themselves could benefit from things I learned the hard way. After all, women who work late into pregnancy frequently have been called pioneers; there are not too many trails blazed for them yet.


For the co-workers of pregnant businesswomen: Once the announcement is made, of course you should congratulate, celebrate and share the excitement. After that, hold the gory stories about childbirth, though positive tips or information are welcome. (“I have a friend who got a fantastic housekeeper through an agency. When you’re ready to think about such things, I’ll get you the agency’s number”).

Be aware, though, that the pregnancy is still new to her, too, and she may not be ready to deal with nitty-gritty details for months yet. I absolutely refused to learn the difference between a “kimona” and a “stretchie” until the baby was born.  Each time I looked at layette lists I felt overwhelmed and just couldn’t take it all in. And that was just one example of my unwillingness to plunge into the new world. I wanted to hold on a bit longer to due dates for reports rather than for babies. So be sensitive to the fact that your co-worker may not want to discuss bottle vs. breast-feeding immediately.

Another crucial point: While at work, most pregnant women are trying to do their jobs. Yes, the pregnancy is a major event, and for you to pretend it does not exist would be weird. But daily comments on her proportions can become a nuisance. And given our social conditioning, expressions such as “fatty“ or “puffy“ are out.

When a Manager Turns Green

What do you do if your pregnant co-worker has physical problems at work? Not all pregnant women experience symptoms such as fatigue, nausea or severe back pain. If she does, let her guide your response. In my third month I had to disappear every afternoon for a brief nap in the company nurse’s office. My absences were explained to those few who needed to know, and I deeply appreciated the understanding of colleagues who didn’t make a big deal of it. When I returned a half hour later, I usually got a warm smile and we just got on with business.  If there are serious health problems that cause many days` absence, this will affect the work schedule. Face the situation head-on. Subordinates and superiors may need to be involved in the solution. One woman in my company was violently ill with morning sickness for a month and a half and had to ask her subordinate to take on some extra work (with her boss`s OK).




If you manage a pregnant woman you obviously don`t want her to think you expect problems. But if they do arise, let her know you are aware of the situation and will try to back her up as best you can. In an extreme case, suggest that she start maternity leave early, but only as a last resort. Naturally, you will both have to discuss projects whose due dates coincide with hers and come up with contingency plans to make sure they get done. If you find yourself feeling awkward around a “burgeoning belly” or acting overly helpful, admit it. It takes courage to be this honest, and she may be relieved to air any tension. Say that you want to correct the behavior. “I know I’m being old-fashioned, but I keep wanting to do things for you instead of letting you do them yourself. Will you tell me when you need help?” That will make it clear you are considerate but won’t burden her with your ideas about pregnancy. It might be the start of a needed, honest discussion on a touchy subject.


It’s Been Nice Knowing You, Dear

Whether and when a woman will return to work is emotionally charged on both sides and needs to be faced, especially if you are her boss. My irritation at being asked, “When are you leaving?“ and not, “When are you coming back?“ probably had something to do with my realization that in my heart of hearts I didn`t know the answer to the last question. Could I swear on a stack of annual reports that I would return no matter what? Having a baby was such a tremendous unknown that all I could go by was how I felt now.

Many women do return to full-time jobs after maternity leaves ranging from two weeks to six months. Therefore, there is an excellent chance that if she says she will be back, she will. Accept this. Not blindly, of course, especially if important projects are riding on her return. A discussion is definitely in order. Do not dispute what she says with comments such as, “Oh, once you see that adorable baby you`ll change your mind.“ But do ask if she will need a transition period such as coming to work two or three days a week, if this is possible. Evaluate crucial tasks and decide whether or not she could do some of them from home in the beginning. That is a form of enlightened management I appreciated after the birth of my baby. As for touching a pregnant woman’s belly, be careful. A thoughtful friend explained the instinctive urge to touch as a wish to “warm your hands at the fire of humanity.” A noble thought, but if you have never had physical contact with her before, such an unexpected pat may be offensive. The simple solution is to ask. I was charmed and moved when someone would ask to touch my belly, and I invariably answered yes.


Now for the other side of the story. What can a woman do to make her pregnancy easier on co-workers and herself? First, think carefully about when to make the announcement. Some experts believe it is best to wait until it is obvious, so that the woman has time to make the emotional adjustment before the world adds its two cents worth. I did not. I think that my announcement at two months was a couple of months too early. But my husband was eager to tell everyone immediately, and since we work in the same industry, I thought I would get nervous wondering who already knew. And I had waited so long to get pregnant that my own exuberance was pretty hard to contain. But you should know yourself and evaluate how difficult the adjustment will be once the word is out.

In any event, the first to know at work should be your boss. When you are face-to-face making the announcement, you will be able to see the mental machinery whirring: Will she really come back? Will the work get done? Who will replace her during her maternity leave? These are normal questions, and you should be prepared to answer them. Deal with as many as you can in that initial discussion.

Remember, pregnant professionals are still unusual, and there may be awkwardness on both sides. Be as direct as you can. Say, “My due date is Aug. 15. I`m planning to work until late July, but I hope we can be a little flexible, since I`d like to work longer but will have to see how I feel.“ Share ideas for finishing major, looming assignments. Don`t say you will work until the day before the baby is due, even though you may want to! It is increasingly common for women to work until close to their due dates, but by that time you may need to relax and get ready for the big event. And you may need sick days. It is OK — even non-pregnant people take these from time to time! I felt like I had to be Superwoman and prove something for all of womankind. Looking back, I probably should have left work several weeks earlier than I did instead of waiting until my doctor told me “Stop, or else.” A week before the baby was born I developed the first signs of toxemia; it was over 100 degrees on several working days in July, and yet I felt compelled to keep going. I should have realized that no one, not even the pregnant superwoman, is irreplaceable.


And now strategies for coping with thoughtless remarks. First and most important, maintain your sense of humor. Ninety percent of the people who make silly comments mean well and simply do not know any better. If the person is a peer, you may feel comfortable enough to let him know that the remark rubs you the wrong way. If the wisecracker is a superior, you may have to grin and bear it, hypocritical or not. Be sensitive to the rank and communication level of that person. You cannot reform a lover of one-liners in nine months. A few people may just be plain hostile. One woman at work made remarks about pregnancy and motherhood that drove me up the wall throughout. Yet I tried to be as tolerant as I could, since I knew she had lost two children and deserved more compassion than anger.

If people are uncomfortable about your pregnancy, you’ll get the vibes. If you feel fairly secure with the person, bring up the subject. For example: “I think some people feel awkward around pregnant women at work–it’s still pretty new to see us leading meetings. How do you feel? It would help me if you could let me know.” Tell your boss how you want to be treated: “Ill be happy to continue traveling until my seventh month; after that I don’t think I should fly.” Or say lightly, “I’m really not fragile, so don’t be afraid to give me new assignments, especially tough ones. You know I love a challenge!” Or, just as valid: “I’ll be winding down next month for my maternity leave, so I should try to tie up all loose ends. It would probably be better if I didn’t take on new assignments then.”

In short, pregnant businesswomen and co-workers alike should try to keep office life much as it was before. When the initial ecstasy wears off, everyone will be happy to go on working with the same efficient person they knew before she, uh, swallowed a basketball. (See how far I’ve come?)

Judith M. Umlas did return to her career in communications after the birth of her daughter, Stephanie.


Truck Sample Flat

I was riding with my daughter, an account manager for a cosmetics company, to a shopping center in Pennsylvania where her product line was carried. She was doing the driving, and we were engaged in good mother/daughter conversation. All of a sudden Stefanie yelled, “Mom! Did you see the back of that truck?” “No,” I responded, wondering why she would be calling my attention to the back of a truck! “You’ve got to read their sign on the back,” she yelled even more loudly. “It’s what you say in all of your books!” Now she had my full attention, but the truck was exiting the highway, and we were falling farther and farther behind. I couldn’t make out the signage and felt devastated. So I shouted to her, “FOLLOW THAT TRUCK!!!” My daughter heard the urgency in my voice, so she put the pedal to the medal and we caught up within reading distance pretty quickly. And when I saw the signage, I could hardly believe my eyes: “A company that CARES for you; more HOME time; CULTURE OF APPRECIATION” (I use those words so often, I thought I had made them up! Was I dreaming? I quickly jotted down the phone number for truck drivers to call to join the A&S Kinard FAMILY (as this was too good to be true).

The moment we got to the shopping center, I made the call. “I’m not a truck driver,” I began somewhat apologetically when someone answered the phone, “but I need to talk to someone about the sign on the back of your truck!” I’m sure the nice person there thought I was a bit out of my mind, but she could hear that this was urgent! I was put in touch with Corporate Recruiter Thomas Ghoerig, who seemed to think I was not only NOT out of my mind, but really on to something. He told me that while throughout the trucking industry, driver turnover rates were extremely high (over 100%), in their company, the average was much, much lower (28%). He attributed this difference to their very successful employee engagement and retention policies, focusing on having and demonstrating a true culture of appreciation! This was awesome, and I knew I had met up with a kindred spirit and company. So I asked for the visionary of the company — the person responsible for making this a reality.
I was directed to A&S Services Group CEO Ken Buck, who had this to say about how and why they created this culture:
“Our Management Team is made up of people that have spent their entire careers in trucking,” Mr. Buck told me. “They are the on the front line with our customers and are the backbone upon which all of our successes rest. They deliver the goods that our culture relies upon each and every day. Without them, our economy would fail. We therefore embrace them and their hard work at every step. Most of what we do to create the “family feel” for drivers in our company, is about culture. As part of this culture, we create a “driver manager to driver” relationship that addresses each individual’s schedules, work assignments, family requirements and earnings requirements in order to try to match all expectations and to go beyond the normal employer/employee relationship. Ours is a very challenging work environment, and we need to remember that and act on it at all times!”

This really rang true for me when I thought about what it takes to establish that “culture of appreciation” referred to on the back of the A&S Kinard trucks. This is true for any organization, anywhere and everywhere, but particularly in a challenging work environment, it is even more necessary. Think of police officers, fire station personnel, hospital emergency room doctors and nurses, soldiers, and countless other industry examples.

In further explaining A&S Services Group’s excellent track record in employee retention and engagement, Ken Buck continued with his own personal pride, “When either professional or personal accomplishments are made known to us, a driver’s name is published and he or she is included in our group that is branded with “A&S Kinard Pride” and they receive a shirt and companywide notoriety. We are more successful than our peers in hiring and retaining drivers because we offer primarily short haul, local opportunities where drivers can live at home, be active with their families and not have forced hours on weekends and holidays. There is a high degree of variability in the types of jobs our drivers can elect to do. This is all because we care about them as people,”

And that certainly shows! We can all help create that culture of appreciation, and I think we are coming close to reaching that “tipping point” in making this a reality.

Is Judy losing her mind…or just her fear?

In the spirit of putting together my IPMDay 2015 keynote address focused on the 5th C of Acknowledgment for Grateful Leaders: Courage (“From Cowardly Lion to Lion-Hearted Leader”), I have been thinking a lot about what stops us from doing the brave and inspiring things we want to and are able to do. That would include acknowledging and appreciating our people in a heartfelt, authentic and profound way, even when it makes us feel vulnerable!  So I must admit that when I was offered the opportunity the last time I was conducting Grateful Leadership training at Volvo Construction Equipment to drive a massive earth mover, I think I found my schedule to be “just too tight” to accommodate this incredible adventure. But this time, when I was there to co-lead a Grateful Leadership Book Club session with Michelle Madsen, Delivery Specialist, Volvo Group University, I was thinking a lot about overcoming fear or else doing what we want to do that terrifies us … doing it in spite of our fear. So this time I ASKED to drive a massive earth mover! I must have been out of my mind. But the kind and courageous Wade Turlington, Director of Volvo’s Customer Center said, “Of course!” and volunteered to risk his life and limb to sit next to me as I drove.  So after the great book club session we had, I mustered up my courage and drove the A35G Articulated Hauler that they provided!!! (My family members will tell you how they feel like THEY are risking life and limb when they drive with me in my normal vehicle). And ooooooooh, that was some wild and crazy ride on that A35G! It was also transformational. If I could do that, I knew I could do virtually anything, since I was taking on the challenge of doing something so out of my normal reach. Okay, so hang gliding is NOT up my alley. But name something else and maybe I will try it. In the meantime, you can overcome YOUR fear, muster up your courage as I did,  and deliver heartfelt acknowledgments wherever they are truly deserved. Have a ball doing what terrifies you — it is a heck of a good ride! And my thanks and deepest gratitude to Volvo Construction Equipment for allowing me to do this!!!