Years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a school in Misawa, Japan. Many of the teachers aides were the wonderful Japanese women who lived right in the community. While their role in the classroom focused mainly on assisting with language immersion, for our international students, they were always volunteering wherever they were needed. They were never idle with their hands or their hearts.

“Arigato,” they would remark, even when volunteering to help me or any of the teachers. And, my life at home wasn’t much different. We were fortunate to have a wonderful “Mama San” who rode her bike every morning to our house, bright and early to care for my children, as both my husband and I headed off to work.

“Arigato,” she would say as I handed her a sleeping infant and a hungry toddler. And late evenings, as I retuned from work, the children fed and sleeping, a wonderful traditional Japanese meal waiting for my husband and I, Mama San would gather her things, put on her shoes, push her bike outside, and bow and say, “Arigato.”

It took many years and many stints in leadership roles before the power of Arigato in leadership, in fact life in general, finally hit home. Arigato or “thank you” is a powerful word in Japanese culture.

The power of being grateful or thankful, I have learned is so much more powerful for the giver, than the receiver. Mama San taught me during those five years in which we we became an extended family, that her Arigato, her gratitude was a blessing for her as well. She was grateful that she could show kindness, show love, show compassion to another family outside of her own. Mama San’s Arigato was sincere, authentic and personal.

John F. Kennedy once said, “We must stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” So today, I want to stop and say, “Arigato,” to family, friends, co-workers, staff and others, who have allowed me to be, and to become a kind, compassionate, loving mother, friend, co-worker and leader.

I have come to understand that our lives, our work, our purpose, is shaped, and our relationships formed and determined by the words we speak. Every word we utter is a prayer. My prayer for those on the front lines today, and for our Mama San, wherever she is after these many years is simply, “Arigato.”

“And That’s A Brilliant Glimpse of Insight.”™


  • Yolanda is a businesswoman, photographer and executive leader.  Starting and running a successful entrepreneurial business for many years in the beauty space, she has also worked in the non-profit, public and human service sectors. Author, adovcate and philanthropist she has created the Brilliant Glimpse of Insight™ or B.G.I™ initiative. This initiative is to motivate and encourage leaders from all walks of life to lead with strength, courage, wisdom and emotional intelligence to help transform the lives of the people they serve.