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Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results

Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results

by Judith W. Umlas

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Go Grateful—have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, and the passion to grow.

When employees are engaged, they are passionate and feel a deeper connection to their work. Grateful Leadership is an essential approach for leaders who want to achieve the bottom line and foster a valuedriven workforce to build stronger professional relationships with


Go Grateful—have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, and the passion to grow.

When employees are engaged, they are passionate and feel a deeper connection to their work. Grateful Leadership is an essential approach for leaders who want to achieve the bottom line and foster a valuedriven workforce to build stronger professional relationships with customers, stakeholders, and employees.

Grateful Leadership shows how to create a more positive and meaningful connection between you and the people you lead. These skills are a catalyst for making immediate positive changes in your workplace that will enhance productivity, reputation, and overall performance.

Leadership training expert Judith W. Umlas provides the rationale, tools, and methodology to build a company culture based on the free expression of gratitude, and she reveals simple but remarkably effective ways for leaders to build a culture in which each individual employee possesses:

  • Courage to make important decisions
  • Willingness to take initiative
  • Trust in the organization and fellow employees
  • Motivation to strive for continuous improvement

Acknowledgment is a basic human need and a powerful motivator—people want to make a difference. In a culture of gratitude, employees stay; unappreciated employees leave.

Your company will benefit from the many Grateful Leadership stories from leaders such as Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, that attest to the fact that when you appreciate, acknowledge, and affirm the essential contributions of employees, you unlock their potential to deliver superior results and enable your business to meet stakeholder expectations and outperform.

Grateful Leadership is a best-practices guidebook to employee engagement, staff retention, and increased productivity. Motivate and inspire your team, your organization, your customers, and, yes, yourself by following the book's actionable next steps for implementing a culture based on acknowledgment, appreciation, and gratitude.

"A road map for leaders to cultivate more engaged, value-driven workforces." — Joanna Durand, Managing Director, Citigroup; Chair, Citi Program Management
Council; Head, Citi Global Program Management Office

"Provides the missing link for leaders who want to retain their best employees and guide their companies to maximum performance." — Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author of Happy for No Reason, Love for No Reason, and Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

"Gratitude is . . . a key to inspiring high performance in the workplace. Grateful Leadership
offers essential knowledge of the 'why' and 'how' of this life-enhancing skill of emotional intelligence."
— Michael J. Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

"A deeply engaging and practical guide that will help leaders more fully express their humanity and thereby create more endearing and enduring organizations." — Raj Sisodia, founder and Chairman, Conscious Capitalism Institute, and author of Conscious Capitalism and Firms of Endearment

"Just when I thought I had fi gured out the concept of servant leadership, I ran across an outstanding resource, Grateful Leadership, that opened up a whole new level of appreciation for what can actually be accomplished." — Steven DelGrosso, PMP, Director, Project Management Competency, IBM Project Management Center of Excellence

"I hope that more leaders will get enthused and become Grateful Leaders within their organizations." — Grant Wren, CHRP, Manager, Human Resources & Safety, Amway Canada Corporation

"A must-read for any manager or team leader in any corporation." — Richard D. Vega, Senior Vice President, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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6.34(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.10(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Grateful Leadership

Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results


The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013International Institute for Learning, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-179952-2



From "I'm Mad as Hell!" to Acknowledgment Activist

Years ago I was troubled by the way people spoke to me or acted toward me at my job at CBS Television while I was pregnant. So I wrote an article for Working Woman magazine entitled "How NOT to Talk to a Pregnant Businesswoman." Overnight, I became the authority on this subject, appearing on Good Morning America and a multitude of radio stations.

I achieved this notoriety simply because no one else was talking about this phenomenon publicly. I had only opened my mouth (or poised my pen) and offered some commonsense, no-brainer (at least to me) "rules" of communication to create a more respectful environment in the workplace.

For example, I wrote in the article:

"As for touching a pregnant (business) 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.

Simple advice, but my colleagues didn't seem to know about it until they saw it in print! And all around me, I discovered people were recognizing the value of what I had written. I found out over time that women were posting the column on their office walls and hanging it up on their refrigerators for years after the article was published!

And so it was that I found a way to channel my frustration over the countless examples of people not being acknowledged when they deserved to be. The very first one that I remember taking up residence in the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!!!" part of my brain was the time I went into my always busy Dunkin' Donuts coffee shop and asked for my usual, mind-bending order of a small, black, half-decaf, half-regular caramel coffee.

This time, there was a new order taker, a lovely young lady with a sweet smile. The next day I returned and got the same person. She filled my order with another pleasant greeting and smile. On the third day, when I got to the front of the very long line, she was there, holding a cup of coffee in her hands.

"What's that?" I asked dumbly. I'm not too bright before my morning coffee.

"Oh, that's your small, black, half-decaf, half-regular caramel coffee!" she said, looking quite pleased with herself.

I was amazed. No, I was incredulous! "How could you possibly remember my order when you have hundreds of customers in a day?" I asked in astonishment. "You are a genius!"

She looked stunned and didn't respond for a few seconds. Then she said very thoughtfully, "I never hear compliments. I only hear complaints. Thank you."

I felt as if I were going to cry when I heard that. How was this possible? How could this delightful, charming, friendly, customer-oriented person be the recipient of only complaints, rather than appreciation, thanks, and ... acknowledgments? This just was not fair. And so it was born—my need to change this condition that seemed to prevail in the world.

My frustration grew with each incident I witnessed. And now that I was tuned into them, I saw them almost every day. And once again, I felt the extreme urgency to fix this sorry state of affairs. But this time my focus was not one narrow group of people such as pregnant businesswomen. My simple intention now became to change and repair THE WORLD (I tend not to think small)!!!

This intention became fueled continuously by the negative mantra that I now heard over and over whenever I acknowledged someone in a service industry: "Thank you for thanking me; no one ever does that." How awful! How sad! I just had to bring this terrible condition forth and then fix it in a way that would lead to having people who deserved it, be acknowledged in heartfelt and authentic ways continuously.

So instead of an article this time, I became determined to write a book. And so The Power of Acknowledgment was born.

The response was phenomenal—both life changing and work altering for all, it seemed, who were exposed to this message. And there were the incredible stories that demonstrated the results to prove this. Along the way, many executives have asked for ways to get their management on board with this soft skill, when their focus more frequently seemed to be on the hard skills.

Ironically, in my opinion the soft skills are the hardest both to teach and to learn. Since it was clear to me that the ability to deliver true, heartfelt, profound, and generous acknowledgments is a critical leadership competency, without which you might as well just forget about leading, it seemed that it was time to write a second book.

From travels all over the world delivering keynote addresses and training sessions on leadership and the power of acknowledgment, I now know, and I have the evidence to support it, that acknowledgment is a skill we all have (although it is in need of development, like muscles that improve when you exercise) and it is one we all want to demonstrate. I've also witnessed the power of acknowledgment—how it changes the lives, moods, and self-perception of both the giver and the recipient, virtually each and every time it is practiced.

I've seen how acknowledgment changes the level of employee engagement, and I've heard about how it affects the bottom line, with the capability of turning average organizations into world-class companies. And I know that leaders who are bold enough, daring enough, self-confident enough to be, of all things, grateful to those they lead will have a profoundly positive impact on their teams, on their divisions, on their organizations, and on what they can achieve. And miraculously, this capability is available to all of us, all of the time. So for those leaders who want to practice the truest and the most gratifying kind of leadership available—Grateful Leadership—and who want to reap the rewards, let's get busy! But first, you may ask, "What is Grateful Leadership?"

Let's spend a few moments on this.


What Is Grateful Leadership?

In the 1960s a new concept in leadership, known as "servant leadership," emerged with the writings and teachings of Robert Greenleaf. The emphasis in this form of leading was on the needs of the people who were being led, which seemed to run counter to the basic ideas underpinning the more hierarchical leadership philosophies popular at the time. Greenleaf created the concept in 1964 and started using the term then. He wrote:

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.... The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.

Kent Keith, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, says of this leadership philosophy, which the center promotes: "If you really listen to your colleagues and figure out how to get them what they need, they will perform at a higher level, which improves the customer experience, which affects business results." It is clear that this type of leadership is effective because it frees people and provides them the resources that they need. People who feel supported produce more effectively.

According to the Success Magazine article "How to Become a Servant Leader," many Fortune 500 companies, such as TD Industries, Aflac, a

Excerpted from Grateful Leadership by JUDITH W. UMLAS. Copyright © 2013 by International Institute for Learning, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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Meet the Author

Judith W. Umlas is SVP at International Institute for Learning (IIL). She is publisher of IIL Publishing and the project management website allPM.com. She has trained more than 20,000 professionals, including project managers, engineers, executives, and C-Level leaders. Umlas is the author of The Power of Acknowledgment and has written articles appearing in Working Woman, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

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