Grateful Leaders Choose “Yes”

by Judith Umlas

this blog post originally appeared at ATD.

If you have been following this series, you are now starting to become more conscious—or aware of the acknowledgments that populate your brain many times during the day—for your co-workers, for the barista in the coffee shop who knows your order by heart, for your son or daughter who is struggling at school, and for your boss whom you’ve always held in high regard.

Now we will examine the second C, for choice. I would love to be your very own Jiminy Cricket and serve as your “personal conscience.” I would yell loudly into your ear after you recorded one of the acknowledgments of which you had just become conscious, as advised in the previous blog post. I would say, “Tell your boss right now what a great job she has been doing. No one else ever tells her, and it will mean the world to her!”

But unfortunately, I can’t be your conscience. I can simply alert you to the many joys and successes that lie ahead if you do deliver that beautiful, inspiring thought to your supervisor. Choose “yes,” even though you have the choice of saying “no, not now.” Choose to make her day!

I had one student who told our class rather apologetically: “I’m sure our instructor is aware of this (she wasn’t!), but maybe others haven’t noticed the word “now” within the word “acknowledgment.” The time for an acknowledgment is the moment you become conscious of it. There are few real excuses for not delivering it now.

I share the following story as a dramatic example of the power of choice. In the webinars I present for people across the globe, I lead an acknowledgment exercise. Below is an account of what one participant named Robert texted to us all during this activity:

“I can’t send the (acknowledgment) message because the person I have in mind is now deceased. He was a former boss who in one sentence set my entire career. He called me into his office to ask me to deal with a particular situation. He started to tell me what to do and then stopped and said, ‘You know what to do, don’t you?’ I said ‘yes.’ He said, ‘Then I don’t need to do anything here. Just let me know if anyone gets in your way.’ I learned that I could take charge, and from there, I kept taking on more responsibilities and moved up the chain to management. I never got to thank him. He died from cancer a year after that conversation.”

As I read this acknowledgment aloud to the webcast audience, my voice broke. I heard Robert’s sadness and frustration, and I knew we all felt his painful realization that now he would never have the chance to deliver his acknowledgement. How many of us have withheld this kind of simple, yet extraordinarily powerful statement—the essence of which might be: “You have no idea what a huge and positive impact you made on my life in that one moment. I will never forget you.”

I’m sure that every one of us in that virtual room thought of those we had not fully, profoundly, and generously acknowledged. I do believe that Robert’s statement moved each of us to commit or recommit to making sure we let those who made a difference in our lives know about it—as soon as possible.

And wouldn’t it be better if you could choose “yes” most (if not all) of the time when you become aware of the acknowledgments floating through your brain? If you are still uncertain, send me an email at judy.umlas@iil.com with the subject line, “URGENT: Choose Yes or No?” I will do my best to respond to you immediately. In the email, be sure to list your considerations for both choices.