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Passing The Grateful Leadership Flag On To Others…And How The Cost Of Acknowledgment Withheld Starts Early

By Judith W. Umlas
August 2, 2023

I was chatting with Kelly Westin SHRM-CP after she attended the “Grateful Leadership for HR Professionals” session led by my “protégé” Chaplain (Colonel) Primitivo Davis at the SHRM 2023 Conference, when a “back attack” made me have to bow out. She thought he was awesome, and the session was very meaningful to her – so much so that we’re now discussing the next steps in her “Grateful Journey.” But in the meantime, I want to share with you how Colonel Davis was able to stand in for none other than… Yours Truly at a huge conference for HR Professionals in Las Vegas, right after his certification!

About 13 years ago, Chaplain Major Primitivo Davis brought me to West Point to train leaders there in Grateful Leadership! The results were outstanding, moving, and inspiring! Chaplain Davis and I then talked about incorporating the Power of Acknowledgement into commanders’ unit suicide prevention programs across the Army. He has always felt the Power of Acknowledgment was the “missing piece” in the Army and across the military.

But the Chaplain kept getting deployed and serving our country for years at a time, until several months ago when he returned from a 10 month deployment, “Operation Assure, Deter and Reinforce”, where he was part of the 101st Airborne, Air Assault Division leadership team which assured NATO allies and deterred Russian aggression.

At that point I wrote a fervent email to him, stating, “Now is the time for you to become certified as a Grateful leadership instructor.” I got a lovely little written “twinkle” as he wrote back, “Yes Ma’am!”

And so, we went to work preparing him for his certification! And on June 7, 2023, I watched him train a group of US Army soldiers in the full day, Grateful Leadership course. It was mesmerizing and inspiring. And it’s truly a personal joy for me to see someone embrace, embody, and share with their world this behavioral change model I have worked long and hard to create and give to others. So, I was thrilled to present him with his certification at the end of that day! And, as it turned out, the timing couldn’t have been better.

So, as you now know, Colonel Davis was perfectly able to lead the “Grateful Leadership for HR Professionals” session I was supposed to lead, and as a result, Kelly may now choose to become certified herself down the road.

In our initial conversation after the conference, she shared the amazing, emotionally gripping story of her daughter’s untimely introduction to “Acknowledgment Withheld” and its high costs.

“When my youngest daughter, Vivian, was in kindergarten,” Kelly told me her teacher introduced herself to the parents as a ‘rigid teacher that did not give children a lot of hugs.’ Vivian was excelling academically and socially but didn’t talk much about her teacher. One day when practicing her alphabet, her teacher said, ‘A stands for aggravating — you kids are aggravating me right now!’ At Christmas, we still got her teacher a gift and she wrote Vivian a thank you note, written in cursive, so I read it aloud to Vivian. The note said, ‘Dear Vivian, Thank you for the Christmas gift. You are such a delightful child and a wonderful student. I love having you in class.’ I turned to Vivian to see tears swelling in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong, and she started to cry. She said, ‘I didn’t know she (her teacher) thought that way of me. I thought she hated me!’ she said.

“This moment made me realize that we don’t express our gratitude and appreciation enough to people of all ages and positions. This unnerving experience has continued to be my reminder, and motivation to practice using ‘The Power of Acknowledgment’ wherever I go.”

Way to go, Kelly! A hard lesson that was, indeed, but sharing your daughter’s story no doubt will help many avoid this terrible consequence of “Acknowledgment Withheld.” So, my deepest appreciation to you… and I know you will make a difference as you proceed on your Grateful Journey.

And Way to Go, Chaplain Colonel Davis!

Now who, may I ask, is next? 😊

Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President, author, and trainer at International Institute for Learning (IIL), a global corporate training company.  She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment ©2006, IIL Publishing, New York, which has been credited with changing workplaces and lives by making use of the 7 Principles of Acknowledgment she developed. Her book on Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results was published by McGraw-Hill Professional in association with IIL in early 2013 and You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids was published in late 2013 by IIL Publishing.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational, and transformational keynote addresses on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. She also leads webinars and teaches full day virtual and traditional courses to organizations such as Volvo, the U.S. Army, Prudential, JMP Engineering, the World Bank, Fannie Mae, IBM, AT&T, Google, Amway, the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York Police Department, and many others. She has trained over 100,000 people through her leading edge, highly interactive and engaging courses, and keynotes – with outstanding and long-lasting results. She is also the Architect of IIL’s Center for Grateful Leadership, founded in 2016. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, her mission, and her purpose!

Judith Umlas is a Keynote in this year’s IPM Day 2023! Check out all event details, registration, and speaker lineup here.

Browse Grateful Leadership Courses here.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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