Passing the Torch...


To tell the truth, I never thought I would ever be writing a blog post like this one. Ever since I wrote my first book, The Power of Acknowledgment in 2006, and IIL put me on the road training leaders and emerging leaders with the courses we developed around the book, I have to admit that I believed that this course and the ones to follow on Grateful Leadership could only be taught by me. That’s because I had discovered this work to be my passion, my mission and my purpose. And I have been lucky enough to have IIL’s total support in delivering them, in writing the three books on this subject and much more that extends the message and its awesome results.

So when I taught two back-to-back Grateful Leadership courses at Volvo Construction Equipment in Shippensburg, PA last year,  I was pleased and surprised when Michelle Madsen, Delivery Specialist, Volvo Group University, said she planned to fully participate as a student in one of the two day sessions. She had popped in and out of the numerous other courses I had taught there and in Hagerstown, MD, since she was part of the HR organization and was involved in much of the training that went on in both places. At the end of the session she was part of, she came up to me and said in a clear, highly intentioned voice, “You HAVE to certify me to teach the Grateful Leadership course at Volvo.” “We don’t have a certification program for this course,” I said adamantly, not wanting to tell her that we couldn’t have such a program as I was the only person on the planet who could possibly teach it! “Well, then create one!“ she said with persistence and purpose. I promised to look into this, not really believing it could happen.

But my IIL colleague Chris Gregg had always told me that one day there would be a “lot of little Judy’s” running around teaching Grateful Leadership. I always laughed this off when he said this. But he and Michelle conspired, collaborated and with Volvo’s total support, I was given the “privilege” of spending the next six months trying to figure out how I did what I did and always with transformational results that shocked even me. It was nearly as challenging a task as writing all three of my books on the subject. But Michelle was both patient and single-minded about this. “I just have to lead this course,” she would tell me, again and again. “I want to change the world and make a difference.” I started to really see this in action with her follow up to the students in our classes. She wrote this to class participants with the subject line “It’s Amazing!”:

“The positive, uplifting effects on yourself and on others when you acknowledge people is amazing! I challenge you to “Knock Someone’s Socks off” just by giving them a heartfelt acknowledgment (appreciation of a person for who they are).  Be courageous and make a commitment right now to communicate your acknowledgement within the next 2 days! It’s POWERFUL!

I loved seeing this! And just when I was thinking I could never create a Train the Trainer certification program, she wrote to me:

“I am continually in awe of how many people you touch with your message every week!  Isn’t it amazing how a concept so simple and so powerfully positive is missing from our lives?  In a society that is increasing its numbers of depressed, stressed out, and anxiety-laden individuals it is wonderful to have the opportunity to show people a way to deliberately go about lifting each other up. It’s exciting to see the exponential effect of your message growing through trainers!”

So what choice did I have? We worked together to fine tune a program, with its many steps and pieces. We had a virtual run through two months before Michelle was scheduled to deliver her first class to Volvo participants, then a mock session at IIL at which our people misbehaved and challenged her, but she held her ground and her purpose. And finally the big day came. I was by this time very excited and a bit nervous for my “first born,” as I called her affectionately. I decided (with a little coaching from our CEO) to not contribute anything during this class, but just to observe and take notes and autograph books at the end of the day. And it was truly an amazing experience to watch the material “live and breathe” from the mind, heart and spirit of another. Michelle did an awesome job. Her students didn’t have any sense that this was her first delivery — ever — and gave her almost all 9’s and 10’s on the evaluations. What they noted in the comments section was how they loved her passion for the material she taught. I was shocked and delighted! She was delivering IIL’s material, but found her own stories to add to it, her own passion to pass on to others, with her own total adoption of my personal mission — to repair the world!

I was thrilled to officially certify her right after this amazing day. Michelle, with her commitment, her sense of purpose and the total resonance of her being to this message, had proved that this could be done. I knew then that the woman named Kathy who had come up to me after a class at another major organization, who also told me, “Judy, I have to become certified as a Grateful Leadership instructor! It is my life’s work!” wasn’t just dreaming. She was creating her own reality. And now we are working toward making that reality be fulfilled.

Michelle has made that a possibility for all of the others to follow. I am truly grateful to her for allowing me to pass the torch to all of those who come after her, while continuing to be able to express my personal passion about and belief in the power of this message. I  think that’s what is meant by “having it all.”

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A Stirring Story

A while back I led a virtual course in Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment. One of the participants approached me by email afterward, telling me how valuable she had found the course to be for her, for her team and her organization. She wanted to know, however, if I could help her with her mother. “Sure!” I wrote back, and we arranged to have a chat. Well, it turned out that this lovely, caring, vivacious woman had such a challenged relationship with her mother that she told me that there wasn’t one thing she could think of to acknowledge her mother for. She really wanted to find something, though, knowing all of the benefits now after having completed IIL’s program,  and the enormous cost of withholding acknowledgments. “There is one thing you absolutely CAN acknowledge your mother for,” I told her. “What?” she asked in disbelief. “The gift she gave you,” I said. “What gift?” she asked, somewhat suspiciously. “The gift of life,” I said. And that, even by her standards, was inarguable.

Her next question made me giggle. “Well,” she said a bit shyly, “do you think you could send her an autographed book and acknowledge her for me?” I agreed to do it, knowing that this would be better than sending nothing at all. So I went into my flowery prose, and wrote on the inside page of the book how grateful her daughter was to her for giving her the gift of her life, and how well she planned to make use of that gift.” And then I sent it off.

About a week later, I got a very excited email from her, letting me know that her mother had received her gift and that when she went to pay an obligatory visit to her, she said her mother was moved to tears and thrilled with the acknowledgment. She told me that their entire relationship was transformed  by this one acknowledgment.

This Mother’s Day, be sure to acknowledge your mother, your sweetheart or your wife. Don’t hold back — it will go a long way. If you need a little help, you might consider IIL’s Mother’s Day Gratitude Gift. And if you need extra help, I will be happy to autograph one of the books and write of your appreciation for the immeasurable “gift” that you received from that special person.

Click here to purchase IIL’s Mother’s Day Gratitude Gift.


You Can’t Make That Stuff Up!

Sammie with Coopie

My colleague Nathalie Udo, IIL Author and Trainer,  shared this amazing and positive learning experience that occurred after she gave a copy of You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids to a friend of hers.

Her friend Jarrod Jacobi wrote: “A while back you gave me a book by your friend Judy Umlas. I put it on the coffee table, and not long after I noticed Samantha reading it for a couple hours…Today when I picked her up from after care at school, I was hurrying her along as I always do while she finishes whatever it is she is working on. As we were walking out, she asked one of the teachers where the janitor was. I was curious why she was asking for the janitor, but I went with it…When we found him, she gave him an envelope she had made. Inside it was a double sided painting she created with the words, “Thank you for cleaning the school!!” written across the top. The janitor was clearly surprised, thanked Samantha solemnly, and said he was going to frame it. Guess where she learned that? (Jarrod is referring to the story from the book, which is called, “A Cupcake for Hector,” written by Michael Wagreich, age 7 at the time he submitted it to me. Hector was the janitor of his school). 

chapter for kids

“A couple weeks later when I picked her up on a Friday afternoon, the janitor came over and said to wait a second, as he had something for Samantha. He returned with a box of 36 freshly baked gourmet cupcakes!!! All the other kids still there were in awe as to why the janitor would give her 36 cup cakes. I told the teachers why and they thought it was a wonderful story and we headed off. When we got in the car, Samantha thought it might be a good idea to share  the cupcakes with the other kids, so we went back inside and passed them around. Ironically, it was her birthday that weekend, so the cupcakes were well timed. 

You can’t make that stuff up!”

And that is the beauty of the power of acknowledgment — when you see the results, you just “can’t make that stuff up!” Our thanks to Nathalie, Jarrod, to Michael…and of course, to Samantha!

Until the next time…Judy