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 joanlunden.com 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!!!

Vulnerability as Espoused by Brené Brown is a Key to Grateful Leadership

Judith W. Umlas proudly poses at Book Expo America with celebrated author, speaker and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate Collage of Social Work, Brené Brown. In all of her Grateful Leadership courses and keynotes, Judy references the ground-breaking working of Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability. Brown was at BEA introducing her new book called Rising Strong – The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.


The jacket of Brown’s new book says, “The physics of vulnerability is simple: If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. Rising Strong is a book about what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of struggle gives us the power to write daring new endings.” This, by the way, is the message of Judy’s upcoming International Project Management Day Keynote address: From Cowardly Lion to Lionhearted Leader. Judy firmly believes that we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable in order to communicate heartfelt, profound and generous acknowledgments to all of our stakeholders who truly deserve them. Only then do people feel really valued and know that they are working in a culture of appreciation. This makes all the difference toward creating an environment of engagement, wellbeing and bottom line results.


Brown’s work is “evidence” for the power of vulnerability for the tens of thousands of people who have participated and continue to take part in Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment sessions.

Passing the Grateful Leadership Torch!


For many years, whenever Judith W. Umlas, Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment Author and Trainer has led courses and keynote sessions at companies around the world, she has often been approached by very enthusiastic participants who want to become certified to lead this transformational, high-impact initiative in their companies. They want the results that are achieved with one group of leaders made available throughout their companies, and they see this as the most efficient, cost-effective way to make this happen. But Umlas was concerned that this material could not be taught with her passion and commitment by others. Finally, at a training session she led for at Volvo Construction Equipment (one of numerous sessions she has led for this global company), Michelle L. Madsen, Delivery Specialist, Volvo Group University stepped forth and said she had to be certified! She was both single-minded and purpose-driven, and since the Train the Trainer Certification program had to be built from scratch, it took six months until she was able to teach her first class. Judith was extremely proud of the results as she observed the session (part of the certification program), and was a witness as Michelle achieved all 9s and 10s in her evaluations. Even more significantly, participants commented on how much they loved the passion she expressed for Grateful Leadership. They were truly motivated and inspired! If you see it as your passion, mission and/or purpose to create a culture of appreciation in your company, in which people feel valued and work to their fullest capacity, then maybe you, too, have to become certified! Contact judy.umlas@iil.com if this is of interest.  And please read the blog post about this exciting new IIL initiative: http://www.gratefulleadership.com/passing-the-torch-2/



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



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


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

Until the next time, Judy




Why We Need More Grateful Leaders (for Leadership Cafe)

by Tal Shnall & Judy Umlas

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

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

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

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

Read the full blog post at Leadership Cafe.



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

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




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

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

– from a very grateful Judy Umlas 


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

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

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

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