Grateful leadership and diversity

Acknowledgment, appreciation, and gratefulness all form part of the model of leadership, and are key components of inclusion. It has been reported that when leaders take the time to recognize all employees on a regular basis – focusing on behaviors they want to reinforce – rather than singling out certain individuals or groups at scheduled times, employees feel appreciated and valued. When employees feel valued they perform well (high productivity), have loyalty to their employer (retention), demonstrate a positive behavior (great for teamwork), and reduces psychological stress. “Acknowledgement builds intimacy and creates powerful interactions.” ~Judith W. Umlas.

According to the author of the book, Grateful Leadership, Judith W. Umlas states, “The world is full of people who deserve to be acknowledged. It will be easier to acknowledge those you care most about if you start by practicing your acknowledgment skills on people you don’t know very well, or even know at all.” This mindset is central to the power of diversity and inclusion. As the world becomes one global village, and workplaces become more diverse than ever, it is incumbent upon managers and leaders to not only embrace diversity as the central tenet (core value) of their organizations, but to ensure that employees feel fully included to be able to bring their best selves to work.

The 5th Principle of Acknowledgment, as documented by Umlas – establishes: “Truthful, heartfelt, and deserved acknowledgment always makes a difference, sometimes a profound one, in a person’s life and work.” When employees are recognized and valued, they exceed performance expectations, go “above and beyond,” value their employer, and become brand ambassadors. It’s true that “rarely given acknowledgments have no more value than frequent ones. Sincere praise should not be withheld due to fear of diminishing returns, of appearing inappropriate or out of embarrassment,” states Umlas.

Diversity and inclusion are so frequently said together that they’re often used interchangeably, but they are two distinct (and important) ideas. In the workplace, diversity is representation: who is being recruited, hired, and promoted. Inclusion is about the environment and how each person experiences the workplace. Diversity has been in focus in recent years, bringing bias-reducing hiring practices and representation metrics to the forefront. Creating an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives can thrive is the natural next step.

The author of the provocative book The Power of Acknowledgment, Judith W. Umlas, as stated on the book’s back cover, “…unleashes the concept of an Age of Acknowledgment we can all help bring about. In a time of celebrity worship and self-absorption, Umlas’ wellreasoned and heart-felt appeal is so counterculture as to be revolutionary. Imagine, as does the author, people acknowledging each other’s humanity, accomplishments, talents, and wisdom on a continuous basis.”

What’s the special application of this model of leadership to the African American community?

African American leadership has mostly been borne out of the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice and equality. Leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, A. Philip Randolph, Jessie Jackson, are the renowned models – those who created and exhibited the type of leadership style most minorities, especially African Americans, aspired to prior to President Barack Obama, although leadership within the minority community has since transcended gender or religion.

The model of leadership espoused by President Obama is the transformational leadership – servant leadership (a style demonstrated by the Christian leader – Jesus Christ, and concept developed by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970). This type of leadership establishes that the people are the core focus of the movement or purpose (their needs are an end in themselves) and they are not just a means to a business purpose. President Obama is also recognized as a coalition builder or community organizer – one who aligned people for a common cause. The shifting of leadership styles has allowed emerging leaders to build and strengthen relationships and skills beyond the methodological expertise in their respective fields or advocacy.

The principles of Grateful leadership can be applied to the African American community because they illustrate how “Consciousness, Choice, Courage, Communication, and Commitment,” the 5 C’s of Acknowledgment, can be helpful in delivering acknowledgment, communicating gratitude and appreciation, and igniting passion and engagement in a people who have recognized your genuineness through your style of leadership.

Also, inclusion can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted, acknowledged, and encouraged to fully participate in an organization. When minority workers, like all others, feel appreciated in the workplace, they tend to speak up and share new ideas. An inclusive culture, based on respect, allows minorities in the workplace the opportunity be more creative and feel valued. Also, for diversity strategy to promote a culture of inclusion, leaders have to make their values and intentions clear. Leaders must intentionally create an environment where employees feel they can safely express themselves and where specific concerns can be raised with transparency and confidence. Underrepresented employees can strive and give their best efforts in an inclusive environment – where they feel valued. Acknowledging their contributions, and recognizing their efforts, are the first steps.

Is the Grateful Leadership model any different when applied in this community than it would be in any other diverse or non-diverse (i.e. majority) groups?

Research suggests that most minorities tend to adopt a cultivating, inclusive, dynamic, engaging, and inspiring leadership style. Leaders, such as President Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Obama, are revered as leaders who exhibited this style of leadership, also known as the transformational leadership. These types of leaders generally inspire, display respect for, and are genuine in their longing for the advancement and personal well-being of their people. Minority leaders engage in a leadership style that is generally in opposition to the dominant culture or White leadership style, which is often more bottom line and task focused, or transactional. Minority leaders tend to lead as transformational or change agents within their organizations. They bring different strengths and weaknesses to their role, because they tend to confront different kinds of barriers and challenges, deal with conscious/unconscious bias, and form alliances with other minority and non-minority leaders.

In order to strengthen the minority community, considering the impact of globalization on the diversification of the U.S. population, the issues of diverse leadership must be addressed. The groundbreaking and “revolutionary” book, Grateful Leadership illustrates the seven (7) Principles of Acknowledgment that could be effectively adopted by all leadership styles to develop and enhance a true culture of inclusion within their workplace or organization. These principles do not only prove to be successful within ethnic minority communities, they are also transferrable to other dimensions of diversity, including gender, sexual orientation, disability, veterans, and religious communities, among others. It is never too late to start to embrace genuine change that could not only impact a business bottom line, but also transform organizational cultures. Grateful Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment possess the elements to develop transformational leadership that advance both people and places/culture.

Parker, W. P. (1976). Black-White differences in leader behavior related to subordinates’ reactions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61(2), 140-147.

Sarros, J.C., Cooper, B. K., & Santora, J.C. (2008). Building a climate for innovation through transformational leadership and organizational culture. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(2), 145-158.

Umlas, J. W. (2012). Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.

Sylvia H. Wonasue, MSc., CDP, CM, AWI-CH is Founding Partner – Sixela Nhoj Diversity Consulting, LLC. She is an executive human resources and diversity and inclusion professional with more than 15 years of professional HR/D&I experience. She is also a mentor, coach, entrepreneur, and trainer, and has worked in senior roles managing employees’ concerns; researching, creating, and delivering multidimensional trainings for all audiences; managing special high-level projects/programs for all generations; and providing professional consultancy regarding employees’ performance. Wonasue is renowned as a “globe-trotter;” She has traveled extensively and taught and volunteered in diverse countries around the world. Wonasue is a Certified Mediator, Certified Diversity Professional, Certified Instructor/Trainer, and EEO Compliance Specialist.

By Sylvia H. Wonasue
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer