CWB Senior Scholar Steve Gladis Earns Lifetime Achievement Award from Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Coordinator

Steve Gladis PhotoDr. Steve Gladis, a Senior Scholar and board member at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB), will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce (NOVA Chamber) in June for his positive impact on people throughout our community.

The award, which Mason’s former president Dr. Alan Merten received in 2011, goes to two Mason alumni this year: Gladis (M.A., English, ’84, and Ph.D., Education and Human Development, ‘91) and Lovey Hammel, president and co-founder of Employment Enterprises (B.S., School of Business, ’88). “This year’s honorees have devoted their careers to impacting our region in a significant way,” says Jim Corcoran, NOVA Chamber president and CEO. “We are humbled to honor their contributions and leadership.”

Gladis, who runs the respected leadership company Steve Gladis Leadership Partners (SGLP) and teaches and coaches in our center’s Positive Leadership Certificate Program, has experienced great success for many years working in prestigious roles at top organizations. Yet, it’s not just his impressive resume or deep knowledge of leadership that impacts people. What distinguishes Gladis the most, say those who work with him, is his personal example of well-being and service. 

“Steve has been a leader who has spread so much positive influence across so many individuals and organizations in Northern Virginia,” says Jim Corcoran, Northern Virginia Chamber President and CEO. “He has led by example and by encouraging others rather than telling them what to do. When you think about a servant manager, if you looked it up in a dictionary, Steve’s photo could be right there on the page. Steve talks about leadership, but more importantly, he also lives it every day.”

Center Executive Director Dr. Nance Lucas says that Gladis personally exemplifies the leadership lessons he teaches to others professionally. He embodies this work in his interactions with others and how he shows up as a leader, teacher, and mentor. Steve has become one of my most important advisors for these reasons and more.”

Lucas calls Gladis “an extraordinary boundary crosser, integrating his extensive industry experiences, scholarly work, and executive coaching with the goal of positively impacting individuals and organizations.” She adds that, “He gives generously of himself as a mentor to numerous individuals with his commitment of preparing individuals for 21st century leadership and workplaces.” 

His ability to cross so many boundaries to teach others about leadership reflects the boundaries he has crossed in his own career. Gladis has succeeded in academia (he taught popular Communications department classes at Mason, served as an associate dean at the University of Virginia (UVA), and directed UVA’s Northern Virginia Center), government (as a United States Marine Corps officer who served in the Vietnam War and a special agent, teacher, editor, and speechwriter for the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and business (working with clients from many of the D.C. area’s top companies, from Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to Lockheed Martin). As a speaker, teacher, and coach, Gladis impacts many people through Mason and his own company, Steve Gladis Leadership Partners (SGLP). As a writer, Gladis has authored many articles and more than 20 popular books, including Leading Well: Becoming a Mindful Leader-Coach, Solving the Innovation Mystery: A Workplace Whodunit, Smile. Breathe. Listen.: The 3 Mindful Acts for Leaders, and Positive Leadership: The Game Changer at Work. As a community volunteer, Gladis contributes to numerous local civic organizations.

Gladis’ generosity inspires people, says Dr. Beth Cabrera, a Senior Scholar with the center who partners with Gladis for MILE programs and coaching, such as the Positive Leadership Certificate Program. “I think Steve's generosity is what makes him such a great leader and such a great person. His desire to help people drives everything he does. The books he writes, the classes he teaches, and his coaching are all about wanting to help others find happiness and success. Steve is extremely generous with the amount of time and money he gives to other organizations, as well, to help them make a difference in people’s lives. He is also a great leader because he makes everyone around him feel good about themselves. He never takes credit for things, preferring to sing the praises of everyone else.”

Empowering others is a key goal of his, says Gladis, and that starts with truly caring about them. “I try to make people feel valued and cared for. People will always remember how you make them feel. Everybody is important. Everybody has a story worth listening to.”

Gladis says he aims to find out what will help each person he works with thrive in their lives. “Well-Being is about thriving, not merely surviving. I work with a lot of people – in the classroom, when I teach, and in my office, when I coach. I try to find out what makes them happy and gives them a sense of purpose. Finding out what they’re good at gives insight into how they can find their own well-being. I work with people to find their best path toward social, financial, personal, and community well-being because I know when they are in a state of well-being, they make the world better.”

In order to do so well, says Gladis, he invests in his own well-being so he’ll be strong enough to help others with theirs. Each day from 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., he practices mindfulness meditation. “Starting the day that way sets the right tone for the rest of the day. If you meditate, the prefrontal cortex of your brain calms down. It affects me by relieving anxiety and stress. I combine my meditation with yoga and the rhythmic breathing really helps me to be calm.” After that, he continues to exercise for a while by taking a walk or a run.

Every evening before going to sleep, Gladis writes down three things that went well that day. That practice has helped him develop gratitude in any kind of circumstances, he says. It’s also a well-being practice that he teaches to others. “Beth Cabrera and I teach the Positive Leadership Certificate program at Mason and have had people tell us how much it changed their lives. One of the exercises we focus on is to have people list three things that went well each day and write them down in a notebook at night right before they go to sleep. Weeks after the course, invariably I’ll get an email or a call from someone about how it’s affected their life. One woman, in a course I taught at [the Prince William County] police department, now does the exercise with her kids every night and told me how much closer they are now. My own daughter who went through the course does the same with her 10-year-old son Jake.”

Gladis’ positive attitude makes it enjoyable to work with him, Cabrera says. “Steve’s sense of humor and positive outlook on life make him a joy to work with. He is always upbeat and smiling. Working with Steve is fun! I feel so lucky to have him as a mentor and a friend.” 

Since he first began working with the Northern Virginia Chamber around 1996, says Gladis, he has enjoyed building relationships with many area business leaders who network there. His involvement in the chamber “makes the county seem smaller – more intimate – and like you belong. I can’t imagine not being part of the community and I owe a ton to the chamber for that.”

“Steve is able to help individuals navigate through clutter and find clarity,” Corcoran says. “Steve assists people with priorities so they can be good managers, good leaders, and good communicators.”

One key decision that Gladis says he advises people to make a high priority is contributing to the greater Northern Virginia community as much as they can – donating money to local people in need and volunteering time to mentor others – as he does through a wide variety of regional non-profit organizations. There are many pockets of poverty within the Northern Virginia region’s wealth, he says. Despite the great success of the area’s businesses, says Gladis, “a lot of people in Northern Virginia are not thriving” and that can be seen in a variety of ways, from kids in subsidized school lunch programs to local homeless people living in their cars to survive. “This community is a wealthy and a poor community at the same time! A community with a lot of opportunity for anyone who wants to step up and lead.”

Each new day of leadership work is a gift for which Gladis is grateful, he says: “… every day when I wake up I thank God for the opportunity to do what I love to do every day – write, speak, teach and coach about leadership. Just want to do that until I’m, say, 100 or so.”