GRATEFUL LEADERSHIP: A Little Praise Goes A Long Way

Practicing Gratitude in Life and Leadership

I am Grateful in Life & Leadership

In a recent episode of Modern Family, DeDe (Shelley Long) and Manny (Rico Rodriguez) are sitting on the couch talking, when DeDe says, “Thank you for your letters.” To which Manny replies, “It’s a lost art, no one puts pen to paper anymore.” And, in a nutshell, that’s an issue that — Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Resultsis trying to resolve, from a business perspective.

Through her book, Judith W. Umlas takes the reader on a journey toward understanding the seven principles of acknowledgement and incorporating a philosophy of grateful leadership into the daily grind. This might sound touchy-feely, but Umlas does a fantastic job of tying the more emotional aspects of leadership back to tangible, measurable business outcomes.

Grateful Leadership is comprehensive professional development guide, chocked full of real examples, situations and an assessment. It also includes poignant profiles of leaders from organizations such as Southwest Airlines, the NYPD, Nokia and one of my favorite places, Whole Foods.


Back in the 1960s, a new concept called servant leadership was explored and studied. It’s the notion that people naturally want to serve, that when leaders listen to the needs of their people, individuals perform better. Today, it’s a philosophy adopted by many Fortune 500 companies.

I don’t want to give away the meat and potatoes of the book, but here is the essence of the defining principles.  Many people deserve to be appreciated, but few actually are.  When you acknowledge people and their contributions, you can: build trust, reduce negative feelings, improve employee engagement, profoundly impact someone’s life, become healthier, and produce positive results. There are many opportunities throughout each day to acknowledge individuals; grateful leaders seize them and act.


While reading Umlas’ book, I extracted five simple things that grateful leaders do. These leaders:

  • Regularly express heartfelt appreciation, and acknowledge the contributions and attributes of individuals or teams.
  • Have an open door policy and are accessible to everyone, from receptionist to upper management, and will talk about things other than work.
  • Recognize that being in a leadership role is a privilege that should not be taken for granted.
  • Understand that sincere acknowledgment improves employee engagement which impacts the bottom line.
  •  Focus on their people, the “followers,” and strive to help them grow, develop and achieve more.


Most likely, you celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and gave thanks for family, friends and other blessings bestowed.  But the season of thanksgiving can transcend the entire year, not just one day in late November. When I finished Umlas’ book, I immediately grabbed a pen and piece of paper, and wrote a list of seven people that I needed to acknowledge.  The book shifts your thinking to a state of gratitude.

I’d like to get in a habit — like many of the grateful leaders profiled in this book — of carving out time each week or month to thoughtfully acknowledge the people around me for the contributions they make.  I don’t want to wallow among the thankless any longer! My resolution is to rise and energize amidst the thankful.


FTC Disclosure: As a writer for Blogging4Jobs, I received a free copy of this book. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.


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Shannon Smedstad

Shannon Smedstad has nearly 20 years of recruitment, employer branding, and communications experience. Currently, she serves as the Principal Employer Brand Strategist at exaqueo. Previously, she held employer branding and recruiting leadership roles at CEB and GEICO. She’s a work at home mom raising two awesome girls who also enjoys reading, running, leading a Girl Scout troop, and her morning coffee. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Reader Interactions


  1. Judith W. Umlas says

    Dear Shannon,

    You can’t begin to imagine how “grateful” I am for the wonderful post about my new book. What truly reaches my heart, mind and spirit is this: “When I finished Umlas’ book, I immediately grabbed a pen and piece of paper, and wrote a list of seven people that I needed to acknowledge. The book shifts your thinking to a state of gratitude.” What you have described is the ultimate goal of all of my writing, training, presenting as I do to leaders around the world: action and creating a state of being. The action you took of noting seven people that you needed to acknowledge puts me into a state of near bliss (total bliss would be knowing that you accomplished this and being a fly on the wall to know their responses!) The second part of what you wrote brings me to nirvana! A STATE of gratitude is truly what I am after. You can’t “do” gratitude — it is a state of being that is brought into existence when it is expressed, addressed or even just thought about.

    One of the Grateful Leaders profiled in my book, Captain Daniel E. Sosnowick, Commanding Officer Leadership Training Section, NYPD expressed this amazingly well: “The day I was to be interviewed by Judy for this book, I was honestly feeling terrible. It was a bad day from many perspectives, and I was, in truth, lacking the very thing I had been asked to speak about. I told my story as best I could, and after our 20 minutes focused on gratitude, I found that my entire perspective had changed for the better. Our conversation became a staunch reminder that when a person is focused on being grateful, there isn’t any room left in his or her mind to stew in negativity.”

    Shannon, you have truly embraced, embodied and expressed Grateful Leadership in your post. I am thrilled by your post and extremely grateful to you for it! I am so happy to meet you and your readers! I would love to hear from you or them at any time:

    Warmest regards,

    Judith W. Umlas

  2. Shannon Smedstad says

    Wow! Thank you, Judy.

    I am thrilled that you read my review, as I will admit, I was a bit nervous when I @messaged you on Twitter. I really enjoyed your book and wanted to ensure that I “did right” by your message. Since writing this, I have thanked 4 of the people on my list (and recommended your book to one of my company’s execs). Now that I am back from a long holiday, I will certainly get back to my thank you letters.

    Shannon Smedstad

  3. Sylvia Gibson says

    You really hit the nail on the head with this post! I have worked for both good, and bad, examples of this practice…I can tell you that I would walk through fire for the manager who took the time to write me a thank you note, or sent a “great job” email to our entire department when I worked on a very demanding conference. Or the Director who took us to lunch every Christmas, and remembered my child’s name.

  4. Shannon Smedstad says

    I’ve been pretty lucky to work for great managers. As a project manager w/o direct reports, I am working on recognizing my peers for their efforts and ideas. Thanks, sylvan is for reading and commenting.

  5. Shannon Smedstad says

    Sylvia, Thanks for reading (auto correct on my phone really messed up that last comment)!

  6. Judith W. Umlas says

    Hi Shannon and your wonderful readers!

    I would love to invite all of you to my free webinar on Grateful Leadership on December 13th. I normally have hundreds of people from around the world on these sessions, and they are highly interactive and great fun, as well as truly transformational. Here is a link to my company’s home page ( where the free webinar is featured. Please spread the word to everyone, and especially to those bosses who DON’T manifest gratitude and appreciation. They will — or at least will see the value of doing so — by the time I am through with my webinar! That’s what I so love about my work: it works!

    With deepest gratitude, Judy



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