Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Zero Tolerance for “Brilliant Jerks”

Catch Christa Kirby's presentation "Cultivating an Agile Mindset: Creativity, Trust, and a Plastic Toothbrush Case" at this year's Agile & Scrum Conference! 

By Christa Kirby, MA, LCAT, PMP, CSM, CSPO  |  Vice President, Global Learning Innovation and Global Practice Director, Leadership - International Institute for Learning (IIL) 

As we move into 2018, it feels as though change is afoot here in the United States.  In the wake of a tremendous scandal, a new reckoning is occurring in the workplace, and in many organizations, unethical conduct that had been previously swept under the carpet is now being acknowledged and held up to the light.  Harassment, bigotry, and bullying are just a few behaviors that are falling under more scrutiny… and are no longer tolerated.

In 2016, Arianna Huffington - author and founder of HuffPost and Thrive Global agreed to join the board of Uber in order to help transform the company’s culture, as well as its brand image.  The “new Uber,” she says, will include “no more brilliant jerks.”  The replacement of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with Dara Khosrowshahi is a definite step in the right direction.

The list of resignations and firings due to misconduct is growing every day.  Are we ushering in an era where people are accountable for their actions and where bad behavior is no longer tolerated in the workplace?  I’m hopeful that we are at least making progress.

The good news is that there is hope for “brilliant jerks.”  There is a set of skills that can be learned and refined, and you’ve probably heard of it before: Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is a concept that author Daniel Goleman brought into popular awareness with 1995 publication of his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.  As you probably know, Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we:

  • Perceive and express ourselves;
  • Develop and maintain social relationships;
  • Cope with challenges; and
  • Use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

A work environment that values Emotional Intelligence is one in which respect and trust exist amongst colleagues.  Creativity and innovation can flourish because people are encouraged to share ideas, and “failures” are reframed as opportunities for growth and learning.  This creates a climate of engagement, where people want to “show up” and are intrinsically motivated to do their work.

An organization with this kind of work culture reaps many benefits.  Number one: retention. People want to work there.  Given the fact that many of us will spend upwards of 90,000 hours of our lifetimes “on the job,” it is important to feel valued and appreciated for the unique talents one has to offer.

The second benefit of this kind of work culture is huge: high performance and results.  That’s right – a culture that promotes Emotional Intelligence is built on a foundation of what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson dubbed “psychological safety.”

What this means is that people feel empathy amongst their colleagues, mutual respect, and trust.  They feel listened to and genuinely cared about as a person.

The results of Google’s 2012 Project Aristotle study reinforced the critical importance of psychological safety to team performance.  When their People Analytics team examined data on the company’s top-performing global teams, they found that the most important factor contributing to the teams’ performance was this concept of psychological safety.  Being able to take risks on the team without feeling insecure or embarrassed, having conversational equity, and treating one another with respect emerged as more than just nice-to-have qualities - they were central and fundamental to the teams’ success.

And guess what?  They are also foundational concepts of Emotional Intelligence, a skill set that each and every one of us can continuously build and improve.

So as 2018 unfolds, my hope is that we will collectively begin to embrace more and more behavioral accountability in our work and personal lives and that Emotional Intelligence will be elevated to the level of importance it deserves.

Want to build your team or organization’s skills in Emotional Intelligence?  IIL’s Emotional Intelligence training includes a globally validated, actionable assessment for each participant, integrated into a highly interactive workshop experience.  To learn more, contact us at learning@iil.com.

About the Author
With a BA from Duke University and an MA from New York University, Christa Kirby is an experienced Communications professional as well as a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and trainer. For the past decade, Christa has conducted workshops and led trainings for corporations, non-governmental organizations and foundations in countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece and the US. Her specialty areas of focus are team-building, leadership, conflict resolution, effective communication, cross-cultural communication and peace-building.


Why Your Agile Implementation Failed

Join IIL’s virtual conference on Thursday, May 4th for more insights on Agile, Scrum, and Kanban.

By Roy Schilling

At one point in my career, I was a manager in a large financial organization.  Being tired of missed deadlines and disappointed customers, I wanted a better way to deliver – faster, better, cheaper.  I had been reading about Agile and how it had helped organizations with exactly what I was looking to solve.

My Agile journey started pretty much like everyone else – hours on the internet and a 2-day class.  At the end of the class, I was the proud owner of a certificate and had a high-level of confidence that I could implement this Agile thing in my organization.  I quickly looked for a project, formed my team and started executing – now we’re Agile!  The result, however, was something quite different from what I expected.  The team never really formed, we had personalities that didn’t work well together, people were getting yanked out of the team for “special assignments”, and a whole host of other anti-patterns which caused us to ultimately fail – and in a big way.

The reality was that I had no idea what I was doing.  I had no experience and no one to help set up the guardrails needed to keep the team (and me) headed in the right direction.  Sadly, this is a very common situation.  Lots of energy, desire, motivation, but no experience to make it work.  Training was a great start, but not enough to guarantee success.


I could have walked away with my failure, and declared Agile to be the problem.  “It just can’t work in my organization” is something I’ve heard far too often as an excuse for simple mistakes.  Instead, I was fortunate enough to have met someone with significant experience in the industry, who offered his help to mentor and coach me.  After spending a short time together, we got my team re-aligned, analyzed skill sets and personalities, setup team working agreements and started working with leadership to help them understand their part in all this.  In short, he got me back on track.


One of the most important things he helped me with was in becoming a better leader.  He helped me understand that I was spending too much time managing down, worrying about “resource allocation” and dealing with the minutia of daily activities.  I had hired good people; it was time to get out of their way, let them do their jobs and give them the support they needed to accomplish the goals they set out to achieve.  This was a major change from my management style, and one of the most difficult and important lessons I had ever learned as a manager.  Without his help, I may never have made that leap.


To summarize, hiring a coach taught me:

  1. To be an active listener
  2. To give my team the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done
  3. To effectively communicate with everyone, and always find the time for face-to-face discussions (and daily stand-ups)


But most importantly,

He taught me how to successfully implement Agile and get everyone on the same page; how to destroy the barriers and bring a new mentality to the company as a whole.

Having a coach to help me through the transformation (personal and organizational) was critical to the success of my organization.  Without his involvement, I would likely have had failure after failure, or just walked away from it altogether.  The cost to my organization would have been significant due to those failures, and I still would have had disappointed customers.

I’ve since moved on and have become an Agile coach myself, but even with many years’ experience behind me, I still reach out to other coaches and my mentor for advice, and to share my experiences to help others as well.

If you are transforming your organization, or just yourself, take advice from someone who has already gone through it.

Avoid my mistakes – find a coach/mentor, learn from others who have more experience than you, ask for help and embrace your mistakes.

Roy Schilling is an Agile Trainer and Coach and is based in the Charlotte area.  Roy has 30+ years in IT and 16+ years practicing Lean/Agile in small to large organizations. Roy’s certifications include CSM, CSPO, CSP, ACP and ICP-ACC.

The Common Traits of Exceptional Leaders — A Live Case Study

by Sofia Zafeiri

For a significant period of my student life and as a Communications Professional, I’ve been wondering which personality traits are the ones that I need to work on to make myself not only stand out from the crowd but to thrive. On a recent Friday night, I had the opportunity to meet with a Global Executive from one of the world’s largest financial organizations.

Not long after we sat down, Stephan (the Executive) and I started discussing my experiences while job hunting and getting into more detail about the Executive’s approach to hiring new and young professionals.

He said, “I want to hire great people. Those who are better than me. And then, I want to give them tasks and the freedom to learn and do their own thing. I need to know they succeed in their personal lives as well as their professional ones. Only then am I a proud leader.”

That rang a bell. A few months back, I was desperately looking for inspiration and some answers to my endless questions. So I asked one of my professors (also a CCO of a global conglomerate) to be my mentor. An invitation that weirdly enough, he happily accepted. I remembered in our first meeting; he said the exact same thing as Stephan.

In fact, I distinctly remember him admitting, “I am not good at everything. But I know what my weaknesses are, and I know how to hire great people. We work as a team, and there are members of my staff that are much smarter and more current than I am.”

In an ocean of good and bad business leaders, hearing an amazing professor and well-respected business person saying what he did, astounded me, to say the least.

For the rest of the night on that rooftop, my wired brain was going back and forth comparing the two leaders. The similarities were plenty. By the end of the evening and on my way back home, I tried to summarize the new data. I realized that:

In other words,

  • They make people feel great about themselves
  • They know their weaknesses and are open to them
  • They know how to hire people who are better than them at particular things
  • They measure the strengths of their employees, give them tasks, and let them “swim” while they provide help and support when needed
  • They acknowledge the inner balance that a family life has to offer

Although their careers are imperative to them, they both valued their time with their families.

  • They are genuinely interested in people

It doesn’t matter if the new acquaintances are younger or entry-level professionals. A good leader knows that the future is in the eye of the beholder.

At the end of the day, great leaders create an army of loyal employees and friends around them who will be more than willing to help them in a time of need.

What type of leader do you aspire to be?

About the Author

Sofia Zafeiri is the Social Media Coordinator at IIL. She graduated from NYU with a Ms in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Before moving to New York City, she worked for a variety of organizations in Europe.

How to brand yourself on LinkedIn

With approximately 467 million users in 200 countries, LinkedIn is undoubtedly the largest Professional Network on Social Media. Yet, there seems to be a significant number of users who ignore the very rules of this platform. Here are some tips that will help you maximize your presence and brand yourself successfully on LinkedIn.

  1. Headshot and Cover Photo.

It takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger.  This is your moment to make a great first impression! A warm and welcoming smile will tell more about you than a thousand words.

Depending on your industry, you can add a bit of a flavor and color to your cover photo. A great example is Ashwath (found below). His headshot is professional with a clean and solid background, yet his cover photo reveals his adventurous nature and love for diving.

I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve witnessed entirely inappropriate photos for the nature of the LinkedIn platform. Although I do understand how you like to zone out and party once in a while, there’s a good chance that your future employer won’t. So keep it simple, solid, and avoid filters from other social media platforms.

What’s a good rule of thumb? My advice for your headshot is simple and pretty straightforward:

  • Wear a suit or a blazer
  • Have a solid background
  • Adjust the lighting to your benefit
  • Be confident and smile
Ashwath Muralidharan is a Senior Consultant for EY and a Duke University graduate.


  1. Headline

That’s the first virtual handshake where you present yourself to a global network of professionals. You wouldn’t approach an employer in real life with the opening line, “I’m an Account Executive for XYZ company,” but rather, you might present yourself as a “Social Media Producer working for a tech startup.” So why act differently online? Customize your headline to your career goals. In other words, focus on who you are as a professional and what industry you’re expanding to.

An additional benefit from tailoring your headline with industry keywords is that it gives you an edge on the algorithm search.  Subsequently, your profile ends up appearing on more searches from recruiters and professionals who are looking for someone just like you.

Here’s the example of Jessica Lyon, an award-winning Communications Strategist, who is a 40 Under Forty winner, and a frequent presenter at conferences.




  1. Summary

See this part as your time to shine —this summary is your 15-second elevator speech. That’s a good space for you to talk about your passions, your strong points, and what your experiences have taught you so far. Unlike cover letters, LinkedIn still remains a Social Media platform which allows your summary to be creative, fruitful, and have media attachments. Another use of this area is to optimize your industry’s keywords and list some of your most relevant skills.

In the example below, Fangzhou demonstrates her passion for technology and communications by combing pieces of her past and future goals. She also highlights some of her most relevant skills, such as programming languages.








Fangzhou Cheng is a Data Engineer at the Earnest Research Company and an NYU graduate.






  1. Skills

In the Skills section, you can add all of your skills that set you apart from the rest. From coding to media planning, and data analysis to spoken languages, LinkedIn allows you to add up to 50 skills. It’s a good idea to demonstrate a variety of your competencies in that section, such as programming languages, Microsoft Office Excel, Media Planning, Project Management, etc.

HINT: if you’re a job seeker, LinkedIn will show you how many of the required skills for the job you have listed.

  1. Recommendations

The majority of young professionals fail to ask in time for a recommendation on LinkedIn. Either shying away from it or neglecting it, having zero recommendations is definitely not, well, recommended. Ensuring your Professional Network will get a chance to see what type of team player you are, your work ethic, or your contribution to a certain project from
the perspective of the people who’ve worked with you is the best type of advertisement. So next time you’ll work with or for someone, take initiative and simply ask them to write a few things about their experience working with you.



Sofia Zafeiri is a Social Media Coordinator at IIL and and NYU graduate.



  1. Articles

Regardless of your industry, being a good writer and efficient communicator always sets you apart as a thought leader. Writing articles often and discussing current news or predicting industry trends demonstrates your thought process and in-depth analytical skills. The downside of this part is that not all of us like writing. If writing is not your best trait, keep in mind that your posts don’t have to be long nor extensive. A well-written article of 350 words is all you need to showcase your expertise on a certain matter.

Additionally, being active on the platform and sharing valuable news is another easy and fast way to show that you stay updated with current issues.




Fred Helio Garcia is president of the crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group and brings his 37 years of experience to NYU students and CEOs around the globe.






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About the Author

Sofia Zafeiri is the Social Media Coordinator at IIL. She graduated from NYU with a Ms in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Before moving to New York City, she worked for a variety of organizations in Europe.

They're Developing Project Leadership Skills One Boat at a Time

Image by Stephanie Aaronson

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

Susan Crown is a philanthropist. A member of the billionaire Crown family, she has been donating impressive sums to various social and other causes for years. As she admits, her donations went to organizations with very broad social objectives where it was difficult to discern if her money was really making any difference, and that bothered her. That’s all changed.

Recently, she started a more targeted approach to philanthropy. Rather than trying to address “boil the ocean” big objectives, she decided to donate to organizations “that seek to foster character traits like grit, empathy and perseverance,” traits that some studies have shown are determinants of future success. I read about her efforts in “A Philanthropist Drills Down to Discover Why Programs Work” by Paul Sullivan, the “Wealth Matters” columnist of The New York Times.

She identified eight organizations that target their work on character building and donated $100,000 to each one. The only stipulation was that over a two-year period they had to report three times on what they were doing and how it was working.

One of those organizations is the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory where 36 participants a year from poor sections of the city work in teams to build wooden boats. Brett Hart, executive director, comments that as a result of the glaring educational inequality in the U.S., organizations have responded with programs such as Common Core. Yet, he maintains that skills like “the ability to be adaptive, collaborative, resourceful, are the tools we need to thrive.”  And through his program, young men and women are learning, and practicing, these critical skills as part of their boat-building projects, skills that he knows will carry them through life.

Let me stop here for a minute and ask: Aren’t these the skills every project manager needs to be successful? You bet. But wait, there’s more.

Ms. Crown wanted to apply the lessons learned at the Boat Factory to other organizations engaged in this important, and successful, effort. In short, she wanted to create a how-to-guide, and that’s exactly what she and her colleagues did. Titled “Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices in Social and Emotional Learning,” the guide was produced with the help of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, which has developed methods for assessing the efficacy of youth programs.

Ms. Crown and her colleagues discovered that the major skills that needed to be developed were emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative and problem solving. But there was also one super-skill, as she put it: namely, “agency,” or drive. This list sounds almost identical to the responses I receive when I ask audiences “what are the key skills or personality characteristics of successful project managers?”

So, whether you’re a teen from a disadvantaged background, or a highly educated professional with a university degree, each of us can learn to be better at what we do by developing, practicing and refining a set of personality characteristics just like the ones they’re teaching at the Boat Factory that will help us navigate the vagaries of the world and be successful in life (and, on our projects).

In reviewing Ms. Crown’s list there’s one trait that, based on my experience as a manager–and father–is the most difficult of all to “teach” or even help people practice, and that’s “drive.” The only way I know how to do that is to provide my own personal example to those around me.  If you know a better way, let me know.

How successful are they at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory? Next fall Jackson Adens will enter Colorado State University hoping to become a veterinarian. I’d be he’d make a pretty good project manager too.

That should make Ms. Crown feel that her efforts are paying dividends and not the kind she sees in her personal financial statements.

LeRoy Ward

J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Why You Should Give Your Organization the Option to Fail

By Joel “Thor” Neeb    |    President – Afterburner

I spent 17 years in the U.S. Air Force as a trainer pilot and fighter pilot. As I gained more experience as an instructor I would find myself frequently paired up with the weaker students in our training program to ensure they received the best instruction. There would be times that these students were performing so poorly that one more unsatisfactory flight with me might be the last time they fly in the Air Force.

I want to give you an idea how devastating it would be for the student to fail out of the flying training program. These young men and women had spent their entire lives dreaming of flying supersonic aircraft. They’ve had posters of F-15s and F-16s on their walls since they were 4-years-old, and today those dreams may come to an end. Too many mistakes in the air would mean their flying career was over as quickly as it started.

Before a students’ flight briefing, I would stare at them across the table and start off the conversation the same way each time:

“You will not fly a perfect mission today.”

I would pause for effect and then continue. “I will not fly a perfect mission today. As a matter of fact, in more than 2500 missions I have never had a perfect flight. I am not assessing you on your ability to fly perfectly – I am assessing you on your ability to adapt and react when the inevitable mistake occurs. You see, I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I do expect you to be impeccable. There is a difference.”

As leaders, we must give our teams permission to fail. In his landmark book “The Lean Startup”, Eric Ries advocates for empowering your team to fail in small ways often so that they can learn how to find the right path to big success. Afterburner’s Flawless Execution methodology teaches the same thing. It is all about making as many trips around the Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief cycle as possible, each time learning how to pivot and adapt to avoid repeating mistakes or to leverage best practices.

High performing teams don’t always win. They just never fail the same way twice. While in pursuit of inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Today, no one talks about those 10,000 failures, and your team’s failures will be a distant memory if they improve after each mistake.

  1. Give your teams permission to fail, but never the same way twice.
  2. Identify and capture lessons learned through a thorough debrief after each project.
  3. Align your team to a common strategic goal so they can clearly see what they’re working towards.

By giving the student pilots under my authority the option to fail, I would give them their greatest chance at success. Sometimes the mistakes still piled up and the student would subsequently be removed from flight training. That’s fine – enduring high G-forces miles above the ground moving faster than the speed of sound is not for everybody. You need to know in flight and in business when to throw in the towel and make a massive shift to your strategic direction. However, my students always understood that if they could recover from their mistakes there would be a good chance they would pass the mission and go on to see their dreams come true.

Give your organization the option to fail. Empower your teams to fail early and fail often when the stakes are small so that they can win big when it matters.



Thor is the President of Afterburner, a group of fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other SpecOps members that leverages the leadership development principles of elite military teams to help corporations achieve their Strategic Objectives.

How to Get Your Project Team to Speak Up in Meetings

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

I’ve never been a “big meeting” kind of guy. While many people find it hard to believe, I’m an introvert (INTJ on the Myers Briggs scale) and I tend to sit there and let the extroverts “think out loud” and the self-promoters hog the conversation. I was once pulled aside by my boss who rightly chastised me for not participating enough.

He told me he not only wanted to hear my opinions, he needed to hear them given my substantial expertise and background in the issues at hand. He was right. After that I tried hard to participate more, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy. Over time and with a lot of practice, I’ve gotten more comfortable in big meetings, but I’d still rather avoid them if I could!

You see, I’m at my best (or at least most comfortable) one-on-one or in very small group meetings. And, I’m not alone.

There are thousands of people just like me, and chances are you have a few on your project team. But like my old boss, you not only want to hear their thoughts and opinions, you need to hear them. That introvert sitting at the end of the conference table, off to the left (which is the best place to “hide” in a meeting) could probably save you from an embarrassing situation with a key stakeholder, or might have the best idea to solve a thorny problem.

So, how do you get that person to speak up?

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene offer the following suggestions for ferreting out that important information from your team.

Take anonymous polls.

Ask people to write down questions or concerns on index cards, put them into a bowl and read them aloud without using names. Better yet, use a polling app or device to query meeting participants and see their answers in real time.

Heat map the topic.

Put poster-size charts of the components of an idea or plan on the wall.  Ask participants to place yellow dots on the charts where they have a question, and red dots where they have a significant concern. Use the dots to guide the conversation.

Break up a big group.

People are more likely to participate in small group discussions. So divide people into teams with specific instructions to discuss any challenges to the proposal at hand. Appoint a representative from each group to summarize their and their colleagues’ thoughts.

Ask them to empathize.

People are often more willing to speak on others’ behalf than their own. So when you solicit opinions with a question like “What objections or concerns might your direct reports have?” it can open the floodgates of reaction. That’s because it allows those in the room to externalize criticism.  It’s not what they don’t like. It’s what they think their people won’t like.

I’d like to suggest two more ideas:

Meet with your team members individually.

Sure, it takes more time but you’ll avoid all those weird meeting dynamics inherent in large gatherings.

Use the old school technique of calling on the person who’s not speaking.

While you don’t want to embarrass someone into participating in the discussion, projects are important and soliciting your team members’ thoughtful advice trumps worrying about whether they feel as if they’re being picked on.

And one last piece of advice: the next time someone doesn’t speak up but approaches you later with concerns about what was said or decided in the meeting, remind them that it’s important for them to participate in the group setting.  It shifts the burden of action from them to you, and we both know you have better things to do.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Leadership training at www.iil.com. [/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Acknowledging the “Unseen” for their Contributions!

By Judith W. Umlas 
Sr. Vice President, Author, and Trainer – IIL

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!


Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment  and two other books which have been credited with changing workplaces and lives.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational and transformational keynote addresses, course and webinars on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, mission and her purpose!

Want to Be a Better Project Leader? Start Asking for Feedback

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

You probably haven’t heard of Barbara Mistick, but she did what I should have done many years ago. She asked everyone who worked for her – and with her – for feedback on her leadership skills.

After all, do you know a better way to get feedback than to ask people?

If you’re only relying on the annual performance review from your boss, you’ll be missing many opportunities to improve on a regular basis. But, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at how Barbara did it as she describes her experience in a recent article in The New York Times.

The first piece of information you should know is that more than ten years ago Barbara was named president and director of the public library system in Pittsburgh, established by the industrialist-turned -philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Interestingly enough, she was only the second “non-librarian” to hold the post. Lacking credentials in the field, she realized she would have to rely on her interpersonal and diplomatic skills to gain the respect of her staff.

[trx_quote cite=”http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/jobs/leadership-means-learning-to-look-behind-the-mask.html” title=”Barbara Mistick” style=”1″]We each have more control of our future than we recognize. One of the most powerful ways we can take charge of developing new skills is to ask for feedback. [/trx_quote]

She also knew that because she was the head of the organization, her staff would want to please her by providing her with generally positive information rather than the critical insights and guidance she needed to make the best decisions. As she remarks, the higher you go, the less likely you are to receive honest assessments on all aspects of your work, especially your leadership style.

Barbara took on the role when it was in the midst of a multi-decade fiscal crisis. Accordingly, everyone was nervous that their jobs were on the line. In such an unstable environment, many people keep their opinions to themselves, try to stay under the radar, and hope it’s the person in the next cube who’s going to get the pink slip.

She was putting out fires day in and day out and never had enough time to make sense of the diffuse and guarded information she was receiving.  Once she had been there for a while, she felt more comfortable asking for feedback and she started with a 360-degree management assessment.

Barbara learned that the 360-degree assessment provided plenty of data about her specific competencies, but little overall direction in terms of the big picture. She’s convinced that when you want input on specific skills the 360 is a great place to start, but if you really want insight on the most important priorities for personal change, “it takes honest conversation with those who know you best.”

Over the years she made a valiant effort to have those conversations. But, let’s face it, it’s not easy for our colleagues, especially those who report directly to you to provide the kind of unvarnished information you really need to improve. But that shouldn’t deter you: identify those folks who will “tell it like it is” and encourage them to be honest.

After six years as the head of the library system, Barbara accepted a position as president of a university. Before she left, however, she asked her direct reports, librarians, branch managers, and employers one and two levels down what could she have done to improve performance. The request caught a lot of people by surprise. But their answers were illuminating and helpful. While it was too late to use that information in her current job, it proved invaluable for her next position.

Barbara’s experience is a lessons learned for all of us as project and program managers. If you want to be a better leader you’ve got to ask for feedback in a variety of ways. The best place to start is with a 360-degree assessment. It’s quick, easy, and yields pivotal information to help you be a better leader. But don’t stop there, ask those who know you best and really want to see you improve. Had I done what Barbara did, I know I’d be a better leader today, and it’ll make you a better leader too.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s 360-degree Competency Assessments at www.iil.com.[/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Reinventing Yourself and Pursuing Your Passion!

By Judith W. Umlas 
Sr. Vice President, Author, and Trainer – IIL

Originally published on www.joanlunden.comjudy-1

Quite a few years ago, when I was a full-time professional in the television industry, I wrote an article called “How NOT to Talk to a Pregnant Businesswoman.” The urge to write it came from my intense frustration at the way my colleagues, who had previously shown me respect, began to make unwelcome comments like calling me “Fatso” while I was pregnant! The article, published by Working Woman Magazine, led to a coveted interview by Joan Lunden on Good Morning America!

As a result of that appearance, I kept being told how it had made a difference for pregnant businesswomen everywhere. This taught me a major lesson: words have the power to change undesirable behavior!

So when at the ripe “young” age of 58, I became equally, if not MORE frustrated about people’s responses when I frequently acknowledged them (“Thank you for thanking me – no one ever does that!” or “I only hear complaints; I never hear compliments!”), I decided once again to do something about it. This time I wrote a whole book, The Power of Acknowledgment!  The book was published by the company I worked at (and still do), International Institute for Learning (IIL). This led to two other books on this subject because we discovered that people everywhere were hungry for the message. So IIL sent me around the world to train leaders in this critical skill and I’m still going strong, yes…at age 68! And traveling this path, I have discovered my true passion – to make a difference in the world; to change it for the better.

judy-2Here are some highlights from my original difference making article “How NOT to Talk to a Pregnant Businesswoman” that are still so relevant today, and which through Joan’s interview, got me started on the path of changing behavior that I found intolerable – and just through powerfully expressed words.

What’s YOUR passion – and can you “reinvent” yourself by fervently pursuing it? See how I continue to pursue mine in future blog posts.


Interview With Joan On Good Morning America

Illustrations by Mimi Pond
Interview from Good Morning America


Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment  and two other books which have been credited with changing workplaces and lives.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational and transformational keynote addresses, course and webinars on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, mission and her purpose!