The Power Of Acknowledgment with Judith W. Umlas and Learning From Screwing Up with Kristen Hadeed

There is a massive motivation that flourishes from a simple acknowledgment which you let slip to your colleagues. Likewise, there is a great value that comes from leaders who ensure the success of their employees as they leave and move forward. Judith W. Umlas, the author of The Power of Acknowledgment and Senior Vice President of the International Institute for Learning, Inc., breaks down the five C’s of acknowledgment.  She describes how she was inspired to write her other book, Grateful Leadership, and shares how you can join the Center for Grateful Leadership and the perks that follow.

Success can be defined by how much your employees are enjoying what they do, whether it’s glamorous or not. Kristen Hadeed, the CEO and Founder of Student Maid, unravels the value of making sure employees are empowered when they walk in and out of the door. The author of Permission to Screw Up, she reveals how we can know if failing or screwing up is just enough to teach us something. She also touches on the power of investing in your employees to prep them up for their future, how to overcome fear and more.

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment


We have Judith Umlas and Kristen Hadeed. Judith or Judy is the Senior Vice President, author, and trainer at International Institute for Learning or IIL. Kristen Hadeed is the CEO and Founder of Student Maid. She also got a TED Talk and does a lot of other interesting things.

Listen to the podcast here

The Power Of Acknowledgment with Judith W. Umlas

I am here with Judith W. Umlas who is the Senior Vice President, author, and trainer at International Institute for Learning or IIL, a global corporate training company. She is the author of the groundbreaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment. I am happy to have your here, Judith or I’m going to call you Judy. I appreciate you being on the show.

I’m delighted to be here.

It’s nice for you to be here. Judy is the author and trainer at IIL. It’s a very important corporate training company. Her book is interesting, The Power of Acknowledgment. She also has other books that she wrote since then though. I’m interested in some of the work that you’ve done like Grateful Leadership. I want to go on and talk about some of these other books but let’s start with The Power of Acknowledgment and how you got to the point of even writing that. Can you give me a little background on you and of what led to where you are now?

I’m going to go back a little bit in time to the early 1980s when I had a unique role. I was a Producer at a local television station affiliated with CBS. I decided to not only work through my pregnancy but work up to my due date. It’s very unusual in those days. Along the way, people would say the most ridiculous things like, “Did you swallow a basketball?” My esteemed colleagues were really rude. Do you remember Howard Beale, the TV anchor in the film Network? He said and he got everybody else to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That’s what I did. I sat down on my lunch hour. I went to the roof of the building and I wrote an article called How Not to Talk to a Pregnant Business Woman. Working Woman Magazine published it and made it their feature article of the issue. I was in Good Morning America.

Suddenly, I was changing the world. People were writing to me and telling me that they cut out the article. They put it on their colleagues’ desks because they couldn’t stand the way they were being treated. That experience made me realized the power of the written word to make changes in conditions we can’t tolerate anymore. Fast forward years ahead, I was working at this wonderful corporate training company, IIL. Along the way, we developed a publishing division. We were publishing some good business books. I was living through a condition that was driving me crazy at the time. That was whenever I would acknowledge somebody in the workplace or outside of work, in a coffee shop. I would always get a negative mantra. It was almost always the same mantra. It was, “Thank you for thanking me. I never get thanks,” or “I only hear complaints, I never hear compliments.”

“I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” Click To Tweet

One time, I was in a coffee shop and I was ordering my crazy order, which was a small black half decaf, half regular caramel coffee. There was a new person who got my order and I came back the next day and gave her the order. The next day, I got her again and she was holding a cup. I said, “What’s that?” She said, “It’s your small black half decaf, half regular caramel coffee.” I said, “You are a genius. You have such great customer service.” Her mouth fell open and she said, “I can’t believe you’re telling me this. I never hear anything like that.” That was it. That was the, “I’m mad as hell. I’m not going to take it anymore.” I told my CEO, E. LaVerne Johnson, that I wanted to write a book myself. Even though I was the publisher, I wanted to write the book, because I headed up that division. She said, “What’s it called?” I said, “I think it’s called The Power of Acknowledgment,” and she said, “Do it.” That was in 2006 and my company has stood solidly behind this message ever since. It led to my writing the Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results. It unleashed this commitment in me to heal the pain of the world. That is my intention with this work and I do. I haven’t gotten to the world yet and you’re helping me get it further out there.

I can relate to the pregnancy thing. I remember people would go overly dramatic out of my way in the hallway as I walked down implying out how huge I was because I had my first child. When I started the job, I didn’t tell them I was pregnant in the interview until they offered me the job and then I go, “By the way, I was five months pregnant.” I ended up being big in the front. I didn’t gain much weight but I had a 9.5-pound daughter. My body was like this spider with this huge stomach. They would go all the way around me in the hallway like, “You’re so big.” You get all those, I understand exactly what you’re talking about.

They weren’t thrilled a year later that I had another one. Those were the ‘80s. They weren’t as big at realizing you don’t insult people like that. Probably they read your book and since then and have gotten better about this. There’s a lot that goes on in the workplace that people don’t realize what they do. I put a comment on somebody’s posting on LinkedIn. It was a guy who was writing about having video conferences. I brought up the point that it’s a little different for women who work at home. A lot of us don’t want to spend an hour to get ready for a five-minute conversation. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s an extra 45 minutes or whatever for us to do things sometimes than it is for them. I was trying to open up the dialogue and that’s what you are trying to do somewhat with what you’re saying. We need to look at these things of how we’re accepting what’s okay to say or to do and how it impacts people. Am I getting that right of what your thought process was?

Yes, and also, I realized that it was amazingly simple to light people up to make them feel valued and to make them feel appreciated, yet the condition of fear, pain and autocratic leadership is prevalent in the workplace. I get these people in my training sessions, my keynotes, and my classes. They look like their eyes are open for the first time and they say, “This is not rocket science.” I said, “No, it is not but do you do it? Do you practice it?” They go, “No.” I said, “It’s not rocket science and it’s simple, that it drives me crazy that people don’t do it all the time everywhere.” I’m not saying to make something up to motivate people to work harder, faster and better. I’m saying, “Tell them what your wonderful thought is about them that you don’t bother to get from your brain to your mouth or to your keyboard.” There are many zillion ways to acknowledge people but for the most part, we don’t do it. We assume they know and you don’t want to interrupt them or you don’t want to embarrass yourself. The participants in my sessions have these most creative excuses, they are winners.

I don’t think we’ve been taught that well. I have somebody on the show who was saying “We want to motivate people, but we don’t know how to give praise and nobody’s ever taught us how to do it.”

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power of Acknowledgment

I will teach them.

Tell me how do you teach that?

I’ve developed some tools and one, in particular, helps people. They put it on their office walls and they carry it around with them. One person shrank it and put it on her computer, so she sees it first every time she looks at her computer. It’s called the five C’s of acknowledgment. The first C is consciousness. It’s a matter of becoming conscious of the acknowledgments and the gratitude that you already have in your mind and spirit for the people around you. They are there. We just don’t act on them. That’s the part that’s disheartening to me. It’s not that we don’t think wonderful things about people. It’s that we don’t communicate it. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “Isn’t so and so great?” They tell me why and I said, “Have you told so and so?” “No.”

We always tell the other person, but we don’t tell them.

I take them by the hand and lead them to the other person and I’m like, “Tell her right now.” They get mad at me but then they feel great. That’s the first C, being conscious or consciousness. The second C is for choice. You always have the choice whether or not to deliver the acknowledgment or let it sit there and fester in your brain. I encourage and I train people to choose yes whenever possible. I will never forget when I was delivering a keynote address to 1,000 people in San Diego a number of years ago. You talk about people being appropriate or not. Who cared when this woman jumped up on the stage to give me a hug because I had transformed her life? There might be a few exceptions. I loved it and I hold her back.

You always have the choice whether or not to deliver the acknowledgment or let it sit there and fester in your brain. Click To Tweet

The third C is one of the most challenging and it’s courage. It takes courage to deliver a heartfelt and authentic acknowledgment. You can never tell somebody something to motivate them. That’s manipulation, not acknowledgment. Assuming that it’s heartfelt and it’s real. It moves you when you say to them maybe if not outwardly then inwardly, then that’s what it takes. You have to summon up that courage. If your audience is familiar with the work of Brené Brown, the social scientist who talked about the power of vulnerability, that fits right under courage. You don’t have to be willing to be vulnerable to express an acknowledgment in a truly heartfelt way. “Nice job,” is easy or “Thanks for getting the job done on time. It was very helpful to the team and we appreciate it.” That’s the one thing but telling a person in a deep way, “You make a difference on our team with your commitment and your loyalty.” It’s who you are rather than what you do. That takes courage.

The fourth C is the easiest, communication. Figure out the best way to reach your recipient. It could be anything from Skype to skywriting. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s that you do it. The fifth C, which is the trickiest but the most important, is commitment. Once you witnessed the benefits of grateful appreciation and acknowledgment. When you see your people come alive, take more initiative, work with passion and engagement, stay in their jobs forever. Committing yourself to be a grateful leader and take this and make it take root in your own organization so that you can create a culture of appreciation, not just a little thing here and there, but a whole culture, then you have succeeded.

Those are the five C’s and that’s how I train people. We do exercises in each of those C’s. We practice them. There’s a lot of interaction in everything I do. People get it on a very profound level. I will never forget in the middle of a webinar with 300 people, one guy texted, “I will be right back. I have to acknowledge my boss now.” He came back and he’s smiley face and he’s happy. He said, “I did it,” and he loved it. I was like, “Why didn’t you do it before?” It’s because people are afraid. That’s courage.

That ties into many things and it tied into my work with the curiosity of why people don’t ask questions and why they don’t do a lot of things. We have this history, our experiences, and our environment influences a lot of what we do. We get this voice in our head that tells us not to do things or that’s not the right thing. We have to look at that voice, don’t you think?

Yes, absolutely. You have to look at it, hear it, and go beyond it because that voice stops us from doing a lot of things. Here I am, the acknowledgment queen, I’ve been called. I was at the airport and I couldn’t go through X-ray because I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I have insulin pods, sensors, and things that get deactivated. They had to find a woman to pat me down. They waited and waited. I was standing there for a long time. This manager takes a woman off her current job to please do the pat down. He arranged everything like magic and then I got my pat down. I went right through, no problem. I thanked him profusely and I walked on and then I said, “I could have found his manager and tell because I said to him, ‘You made my life so much easier.’” He said, “My job is to make this workable.” That’s beautiful. I’m going to have to do a blog post and confessed that the acknowledgment queen didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to acknowledge someone and I’m still berating myself.

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power Of Acknowledgment: There are zillion ways to acknowledge people, but for the most part, we don’t do it. We assume they know, and we don’t want to interrupt them or embarrass ourselves.


You recognized it though. That’s a huge part and so for next time, we have to do that. Sometimes we do have missed opportunities but it’s what you do and what you’ve learned maybe from that. You mentioned about blogging about it. I saw the had the story of how you came up with the title for your Grateful Leadership book. I wanted to ask you about that because when you talked about the first book you go, “It’s going to be called The Power of Acknowledgment.” You had it immediately off the top of your head, but you don’t seem to have that with the second book. How did the title come up for that?

I did have a title for it and I thought it was perfectly valid. It was called Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment. It’s a little dry but that’s what it was. I met with my editor, he came to our office and he said, “What do you think about the title Grateful Leadership?” I got such goosebumps, the hairs on my arms stood up. I said, “That’s amazing but I’m sure there are million Google hits on that.” I went to my computer and I entered grateful leadership and there was one hit. Do you know what that’s called? Have you heard of that term? One hit, when you put two words together, it’s called Googlewhack. It’s very rare.

This was in 2012 or 2011 when we first came up with the name and I was thrilled. It was from a NASA blog post about Thanksgiving, you should practice grateful leadership. It was lovely and well documented, but I want grateful leadership practice every minute of every day. I was thinking about it because it was in 2012 that we came up with the title and then the book was published. For the fun of it, I went to Google and typed in grateful leadership and there were 97 million hits. Most of them, way down on the pages, were IIL’s Grateful Leadership initiative.

It’s important to know what that means to practice this grateful leadership. How would you describe that?

It’s being open with your people and letting them know that you value them. Letting them know that you see them as a human being. Letting them know that they matter and that they make a difference. I did a survey one time, I didn’t mean to do it, but I was doing training at Volvo. I was leading a course there and I do a little survey, “When was the last time you were appreciated or acknowledged for your contribution not just through compensation but by an acknowledgment?” You have four choices, within the past week, month, year or not at all. I get pretty standard responses within the past month. It’s when a lot of people have seen or experienced praise. Some of them you get not at all and then others havoc.

In the cleaning industry, the only way to make a lot of money is to do a lot of volumes. Click To Tweet

I did another question. “When was the last time you acknowledged somebody?” That’s usually a lot better because people have control over that. We did that and then somebody in the group raised her hand and she said, “Those are very good questions, but you left out a more important one.” I said, “Really?” I love to welcome the contributions of participants. I often change the way I do something based on what they’re telling me where I add something. She said, “You need to ask us this question, ‘How many of you left a job in your career due to lack of appreciation?”’ I said, “I will ask.” I figured two, three, maybe four hands. 38 out of 40 people raised their hands. Almost everyone and wherever I go, the vast majority of people have. What frustrates me greatly is that this is so easy to fix. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s letting people know they matter and what they did makes a difference. It helps the company and it helps the team. It is so simple. It’s a great honor and pleasure to deliver that message. I want to see it take root all over in all sectors quicker.

We hear so much about Millennials wanting to feel appreciated even more and acknowledged more than other generations. There’s a need for this more than ever. You have this Center for Grateful Leadership. I know people from around the world learn from you. I’m interested in knowing what that is. Can you explain how can people join and what are the benefits from that type of thing?

We founded the Center for Grateful Leadership in 2016, June 14th, which is my birthday. I created it that day so I would remember its anniversary.

What do you do in it? How do people join it? What are the benefits of it?

First of all, if people want to learn more about it than I will have time to tell them now, they should go to The benefits are that we’re a community of people all over the world who want this model of leadership to become entrenched in their companies and outside companies. We have some major contributors to it. We have a weekly podcast hosted by Jim Trela who’s the IT Project Manager at General Motors. I’m so proud of him. He attained his certification as a Grateful Leadership Certified Professional and he taught a class. They get certified to teach a one-hour class to their organizations. I give them all the materials, the slides, the workbooks, whatever they need to deliver it. He was such a success that he was asked to go back and deliver it to a broader audience at GM. I feel so proud, and I know there are going to be thousands of people who end up doing that, taking this, mastering it, and delivering it because it works. It makes a difference.

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power Of Acknowledgment: Grateful leadership is being open with your people and letting them know that you value them and that you see them as a human being.


We have a monthly webinar on always the second Thursday of the month at 1:00 PM. Once you joined the Center for Grateful Leadership, you will get a notification every month a couple of times to let you know it’s coming. We have amazing guest presenters. We gather and we have the greatest dialogue. I feel like we’re in a huge global living room. We’re chatting and having a great exchange after the presentation. We play one of the podcasts by Jim Trela. We have a monthly article called The Gratitude Connection where Donald Officer connects Grateful Leadership to all these other initiatives and books. It’s very exciting things. People are always coming on board to contribute. I’m very open and I’m welcoming any contribution that will further the message and the mission.

A lot of people can learn so much from you and all your books. It is so much fun to have you on the show, Judy. Thank you so much. Are there any other sites or anything you would like to share?

That’s the main site but they should also go to We have three global conferences every year. We have Agile and Scrum. We have International Project Management Day and then we have Leadership and Innovation. It’s very exciting.

This has been so much fun, Judy. Thank you so much for being on the show.

I’m delighted to be there and thank you for helping us further this powerful message. That’s the important intent.

You’re welcome.

Learning From Screwing Up with Kristen Hadeed

I am here with Kristen Hadeed. She is the CEO and Founder of Student Maid, a cleaning company that has employed thousands of Millennials over the last decade and is known for building the next generation of leaders. You’ve probably seen her and her company featured on PBS, Fox, NBC, TIME, Forbes, and her first TED Talk has received more than three million hits on YouTube. Welcome, Kristen. I’m excited to hear about your success. Three million, were you surprised by how successful it was? You’re doing amazing works. Thank you so much for being on the show. I want to get a little background on you though because we know how successful you have been with all this. Where did you start and how did you get to this point?

My parents say that they always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I always had these little businesses as a kid. Even though I was that way, I never thought that that was in the cards for me. My parents were not entrepreneurs. I came to college and I was pretty lost. I thought success was about the salary that you would earn when you graduated. I was on this hunt for the job that would pay the most amount of money. I had heard that being an investment banker on Wall Street was a good go. I would have been a terrible investment banker but that’s the path that I went down. Finance was my major and then life took a turn.

Unbeknownst to me one day, I went to the mall after class and I should have never been there. I was still broke. I had no money. I went to the mall, I was walking around, and I fell in love with a pair of jeans that were hanging in the window of the store and they were $99. I thought, “What is something that I can do that would make $99 to buy these jeans?” In that way, I was very entrepreneurial. If I wanted something, I’d figure out a way to get it. I put an ad on Craigslist to clean someone’s house. That was the first idea that popped into my mind. It was a complete disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. The woman who hired me had a 4,000 square foot house, and I was used to doing chores as a kid but not cleaning someone’s house, but I did it. She paid for me and I bought the jeans. She hired me to come back every week and that’s how it all started. She told her friends about me. I started cleaning this house, that house. The next thing I knew, I was cleaning seven days a week, but never in a million years did I ever think that this would be my career.

It’s not something that comes to mind or the first thing I would think of, but you do these things. I’m always fascinated by which door opens the next opportunity and a random thing. I answered a phone call once for a part-time job. I was a Kelly girl back in the day and that led me to work at a company for many years because I took a one-day gig. You just don’t know. You’ve got this company Student Maid. How did that come to be?

For a little while, I was cleaning houses between classes to make money for this apartment that I was supposed to have in New York. The turning point happened right before my senior year. I got a contract to clean all of these empty college apartments. They were handing these contracts out like candy because there was such a high demand for cleaning companies with thousands of students who are moving out of these apartments. There’s a short deadline for these apartments to be turned around for people to move into them. Here I was. I didn’t have any employees. It was me and a couple of friends that were cleaning with me. I signed this contract to clean 800 apartments and 21 days to do the work.

When we read about leadership and success, it's always about the retention rate and how many people are still in the company. Click To Tweet

That was when I had to turn it into a legitimate company. I hired a team of 60 people to help me. They were all students. I wouldn’t even say I interviewed people. It was like the first 60 people that applied for the job, got the job. There was this defining moment that happens in summer. About three days into the contract, 45 of the 60 people walked out at the same time. It was such a bad day. I was a terrible leader and not intentionally. I had no idea how to inspire people and engage with people. I didn’t even know anyone’s names. The work was horrible. It was hard. The pay wasn’t great. I couldn’t afford to pay people what they deserve to be paid for this work and then I was a bad leader. Forty-five people walked out. That for me was the moment that I became obsessed with learning how to be a better leader. I also became obsessed with the challenge of, how do you make a company like this work where the work that you’re asking people to do is not glamorous? It’s not the work that makes you feel significant and valued. How do I do this? That led to me turning down a job in finance and here we are spending many years officially in business.

That’s such an interesting thing because I talked a little bit about Disney having to come up with the ways to improve the turnover in their laundry division. What they did was they asked questions like, “How can we make this job better for you?” Since my focus is helping people develop curiosity, how much questioning did you do with the people who didn’t leave? How did you find out how to be better?

There are two parts to this. The first piece at that moment when these 45 people walked out. I did get those people back, all of them. The way I got them back, I went to the fifteen people who hadn’t quit. I told them what happened and I invited them in. I said, “I need help. How can we get them back?” Everyone started sharing their ideas. Someone had this idea to have an emergency meeting, ask for everyone to show up, and promise early paycheck if they showed up. Everyone showed up because everyone wanted to get paid and be done with this job. That night, I confessed I’ve never done this before. I have no clue what I’m doing. I became a human being. I was vulnerable. I didn’t let ego get in the way. All these people came back.

After that, as I built the company, I learned that this is a tough industry. It’s not the work, it’s not the pay, it has to be the environment. That’s the only thing I can control. There was one meeting that we had that was so profound where I asked people, “How do you want to feel when you walk in these doors and how do you want to feel when you walk out?” Words like inspired, invested in, safe and trusted, all these words came out. Those feelings became my compass. Every decision was made based around “Will it make people feel this way? If so, we will do it. If not, we’re not doing it.” It’s inviting people in and asking questions. Often, we make decisions for people and these decisions are going to affect these people, but then we don’t invite those very people to the table when we’re discussing these solutions and these ideas. I always believe everyone at the table and I ask critical questions. Make sure that you’re getting a holistic view so that you can create things that will resonate with everyone and make people feel valued.

You bring up some interesting points because you’re talking about feeling good when you walk in and walk out of the door. Are you talking about when they go in to clean? How do we change our perception of our job if our job is not glamorous? Scrubbing toilets isn’t exactly what a lot of people love to do. How do we help with our perception of what we do?

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power Of Acknowledgment: Make sure that you’re getting a holistic view so that you can create things that will resonate with everyone and make people feel valued.


What makes Student Maid special is I’m not saying that work isn’t important, but if you focus more on the feelings in their culture, I would argue that the work doesn’t matter. Think about you have the most glamorous job in the world, but you don’t feel empowered and you don’t feel safe. You don’t feel like you’re trusted or that you can trust the people around you. People will leave that job in a heartbeat, but you work in a place where maybe your job isn’t the most glamorous, but you have all these other feelings. That’s amazing. There’s got to be a bigger purpose to the business and the organization. At Student Maid, we say that we build leaders. We happen to do that while we’re cleaning toilets. Our whole focus is on how we can help you become the best person that you can be. While our students are cleaning, they’re also taking classes where they learn things like how to find their strengths, how to build meaningful relationships, and all these things that don’t have anything to do with cleaning but have everything to do with success in life. It means a lot to people that we’re investing in them in a personal and professional way. It’s things that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

There’s not a big margin for how much you could make in certain jobs. How can you afford to offer things that are extras in terms of education and things like that and still remain competitive? Is that a challenge?

Yes, and we had to have an honest look and conversation around how do we want to grow. In the cleaning industry, the only way to make a lot of money is to do a lot of volumes. That means you have to hire hundreds and hundreds of people and that totally impacts your culture. You have to work with properties and groups that maybe don’t treat your people that well. We’ve had it in the past where we’ve done so much volume and then we’ve seen our culture take a hit and we’re not willing to do that. The other piece is franchising, which we recognize it’s not the cleaning that we’re excited about. It’s this leadership piece. How we’re growing and where we’re most profitable is teaching other organizations how to emulate the environment we have and how to invest in their employees in similar ways. As far as students may go, a lot of our profits go into these classes. It doesn’t mean that the company makes less. We had to look at other ways to grow but we wanted to do all that in a way that stayed true to our culture.

That’s an interesting way of building people up to make them more well-rounded and like what they do. Do you have any worries that if they become educated, that they might leave and do something else? I’m thinking of all the people I’ve talked to who give me all their reasons for not doing things. I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

When 45 people walked out on me, I gained this complex of I don’t want people to leave. I will do anything to keep people and it almost became unhealthy like a hostage situation. If somebody wants to leave and I’m sitting here trying to talk you out of it. When we read about leadership and success, it’s always your retention rate and how many people are still in the company. I will have fears like if I invest too much in people, “What if they leave?” I don’t know what happened or what changed. Maybe I grew as a person, and I realized I have dreams of my own that some are not related to Student Maid and I’m allowed to have those.

Let people feel safe admitting that maybe this isn't forever and that's okay. Click To Tweet

Maybe some of the other people on my team have those. I started getting comfortable with this idea of what if my job is to help people become the best people they can be and help them achieve those dreams, whether they’re in this company or not? That’s where our culture of investment began. We encourage people to move on. That’s the whole idea. We equip you with these skills and then we launch into the world so you can make your mark on it and now people don’t want to leave. When we focused on investing, people feel cared for and valued. I don’t know who said this line but it’s so brilliant. It’s like, “What if we invest in people and they leave?” The flip side of that is, “What if you don’t and they stay?”

That’s what people are worried about. I’ve seen a lot of companies changed since the Mad Men days when I first was in organizations because they realize that not every opportunity for people is necessarily within their company. Sometimes, I don’t know if it’s true with your company, but some companies let people go to the next level. Maybe, the next level is at another organization, but then the door is still open if you ever want to come back. I’ve seen much more doors open than we ever saw in the past to come back. Do you see that?

Yes, and we have to redefine success. It’s the people who are still sticking around, but it’s also the people who leave knowing that they’re even better for having worked with the organization. I do a lot of speaking and consulting. I had this experience that was so amazing where I was with this company, all top leaders in the company. I had everyone get out a piece of paper and I said, “Write down what your life looks like in five years. Where are you living? Where are you working?” Everyone was looking at me like, “What do you mean where are we working? We’re all in this company.” I was like, “Be honest. Where are you? If on your paper, you put something that will take you away from this company, I want you to stand up.”

The CEO was in the room, everyone was there. First, no one stands up but eventually, you see a couple of people start standing up and then more people started standing up. I invite them on stage and we had everyone go and share what their dreams were. Every single person that shared, it wasn’t they were leaving the company to go to another company that was similar. It was like, “I’m leaving to retire and move to this island with my family,” or “I’m leaving because I want to take my rock band full-time.” Often, we think someone is leaving to go pursue a similar job, but it’s usually this dream they have had for so long and we owe it to them to support them in that. Everyone gave them a standing ovation, including the CEO. We have to have these conversations more in our teams. Let people feel safe admitting that maybe this isn’t forever and that’s okay.

This is all fascinating and it ties into what you wrote about in your book, Permission to Screw Up. You talked about screwing up and it ties well into what I researched for curiosity. I found several factors impact curiosity and one of them is fear. How can we help people to overcome that fear and explore questions and opportunities? What’s your biggest advice for that?

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power Of Acknowledgment: Success is the people who are still sticking around, but it’s also the people who leave knowing that they’re even better for having worked with the organization.


We have to examine why we do not speak up when we’re in a session and people are getting fear. Is there a fear of being judged? Is there a fear of being wrong? Is there a fear of feeling? All those things. You have to scale and reel it back even more and think about, “What is my relationship with failure? Why do I view this as a bad thing?” When I grew up, failure wasn’t a bad thing. We talked about it often. I can remember at the dinner table, my parents would ask questions like, “What didn’t go well? What did you learn from it? Your failure equals growth. It didn’t equal to you’re a failure or we don’t love you.” I had a healthy relationship with it.

For many people, sadly, that’s not the case. We did an exercise in my company where we had our students examine their relationship with failure. We had a student who said when she didn’t get a B, she would have to write, “I will not get another B,” 300 times on a piece of paper. We have to examine why do we feel this way and we have to undo that. One way that I teach to do that is to create a failure resume where you go through your life and think about all the big moments where you messed up. You highlight what was the lesson here. What did I learn from it? You start to view it as a positive and you see it as a good thing. “I can gain something from it. I can see it as a gift if I choose to view it that way.” It’s a lot of self-work.

It’s almost like you’ve written a lot of whatever research of what you’re talking about. What we do in our training class was very similar. That’s so important because it’s our environment. The four things I found that keep us back are fear, assumptions, technology, and the environment. Your environment was very strong with your parents in helping you to look at failure as a growth opportunity. A lot of people haven’t had that. Their experiences completely held them back. That creates the dialogue, which is when I said assumptions, that’s the voice in our head of what we tell ourselves. We get held back because we keep reviewing all these things. I love that exercise because you write it down and then you realized where’s this voice coming from? That can be so important. When you were writing about this, I was wondering if you had some great lessons you heard from people about screwing up. Were there some good lessons that you’ve heard that you share when you do your research and your talks and everything you do?

What I realized is everyone has these stories. My book is every screw up that I can remember making. There’s a lot more but it was very uncomfortable to write and I felt very vulnerable. I was afraid to put it out in the world because it’s like, “Here are all the things I’m embarrassed and I’m ashamed of. Here’s the impact that these things had on people. Here I go. I’m putting it out in the world and I can’t take it back.” When I started to interview people for the book and talk about the concepts in the book, everyone has these stories. Some of the people that I interviewed are people I admire and people who are mentors of mine. These are some of the stories that I had never heard before.

What it taught me is as a society and as a culture, we don’t talk about this stuff. We talk about the successes, we talk about the wins, we talk about the lessons we learned many years ago. We don’t talk about the things we’re going through and the hard things we’re grappling with. We need to do that more because when we do that, people will feel less alone. We make leadership more attainable. I realized that in every industry you hear things like, “In medicine, you can’t screw up or in this industry, you can’t screw up.” That’s not true. In every single industry, people screw up. We are human. That’s what happens. We have this idea that this industry or this group might have to be perfect and that’s not true. It’s fascinating to learn more about people’s stories and realize that we all mess up. We all do. We need to talk about it more.

In every single industry, people screw up. We are human, and that’s what happens. Click To Tweet

How could we tell if failing or screwing up too much is just enough to teach us something?

Failure is when you repeat the same thing twice or more than twice. It’s not a failure if you learn from it and you do it differently the next time. Maybe you still don’t get the outcome that you want, but you’ve changed your approach or you changed something and then you learn again and then you change it again. In my company, we say like, “We want you to screw up. That’s how you learn.” What’s not okay is screwing up and then repeating the same exact mistake again. You have to do it differently. If you do that, you see it as growth and that’s a positive thing. If you’re not, then we’re going to ask you to leave because it means you don’t care enough to try and grow as a person. It’s not like just give people permission to screw up left and right. What happened after the screw-up and the failure? That is the most critical piece in my opinion.

Growth is such a huge point of what we do with what we’ve learned. I’m curious what you learned from giving your TED Talk. Can you give a little background on what you talked about for people who maybe haven’t seen it and what you learned from doing that?

That was a long time ago. I had just graduated from the University of Florida and I talked about curiosity. It was about how as a kid, I grew up in a home where my creativity and curiosity were nurtured. I was encouraged to go after an idea I had, even though some of them were probably not great ideas. My parents were like, “Go and try.” I made this list when I was ten years old. It’s called How to Retire by Twenty. It had all these things on a list like walk dogs and clean houses. It’s funny because everything I wrote on the list is everything that my company does now, which is crazy. The whole message of it is for some reason, as kids, we’re curious and creative. We allow ourselves to wonder, to dream, and to explore these possibilities. Later in our lives, somehow for some reason, we stopped doing that. Maybe it’s the fear of failure, fear of being judged, and all these things, but why? How do we get back to that child-like state where we’d have an idea, we went after it and we try? What’s the worst that could happen?

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with the training. The why and we’ve found out is the fear, assumptions, technology, and environment, but how to get back to it is all this stuff. You recognize it and write it down. You think about it and you go, “This is how my environment impacted me. This is the voice in my head that’s telling me I’m not going to like this, this is boring,” or whatever it is that we’re telling ourselves. A lot of it is opening that dialogue and recognizing which of these things, as you said with fear. Do you have a fear of failure? Do you have a fear of looking incompetent? Do you have a fear of all these different things? You work on creating an action plan to overcome those things and it’s important. I love what you’re doing with all of your talks. That’s how I found you. I’m thinking, “She’s right up my alley with everything that she’s talking about.” You mentioned that your company does other things.

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment
The Power Of Acknowledgment: As kids, we’re curious and creative. We allow ourselves to wonder, to dream, and to explore possibilities. Later in our lives, somehow for some reason, we stopped doing that.


We do other services like pet sitting, dog walking, house sitting, all kinds of stuff, but mainly cleaning.

You do residential and commercial. It’s an interesting concept of what you’ve been working on. A lot of people would be interested in finding out more about you, your book, your talks, and everything that you do. If somebody wanted to find you, what’s the best way to reach you?

It would be my website, which is and from there, you can learn more about my book, you can subscribe to my blog, and I have all my social media accounts linked to that. For the company, and then the book, if you don’t go to the site, the book is sold anywhere books are sold including Amazon and it’s Permission to Screw Up.

I saw that you’re licensed, insured, bonded, and all the background check stuff. I loved looking at your site. It was interesting to see all the things you’ve done and accomplished. I hope people check out your TED Talk. Anything that spreads the news about curiosity, I’m all for it. This was great. Thank you so much for being on the show, Kristen.

Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed this whole conversation. I’m bummed it’s over.

I’d like to thank Judy and Kristen for being my guests. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can find them at You can also find more information about curiosity. The assessment, the book, and the whole process are all at I hope you enjoyed this episode and join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Judith M. Umlas

TTL 570 | The Power Of Acknowledgment

Judith W. Umlas is the Sr. Vice President, author, and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. (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.

About Kristen Hadeed

TTL 570 | The Power Of AcknowledgmentKristen Hadeed is the CEO and founder of Student Maid, a cleaning company that has employed thousands of millennials over the last decade and is known for building the next generation of leaders. In addition to leading her own company, she now helps organizations around the world make a lasting, meaningful impact on people by creating environments in which they thrive. She has worked with a variety of industries including healthcare, education, retail, real estate, nonprofit, hospitality, aviation, and consumer products. In 2017, she published her first book, “Permission to Screw Up,” in which she tells the stories of her biggest mistakes in leadership. She hopes to inspire other leaders to share their “perfectly imperfect” stories of success to empower people with the knowledge that their most challenging moments can become their biggest leadership lessons. Kristen and Student Maid have been featured in news outlets including PBS, FOX Inc., NBC, TIME, and Forbes. Her first TED Talk has received more than three million hits on YouTube.


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