A little grace in leadership will go a long way


The year was 2007. I was in my first senior leadership role. I enjoyed the visibility and growth and was really proud of my achievements. I worked hard for many hours a day. I had a strategy and agenda in mind and I drove myself hard to achieve that. I expected the same from my team. Often pushing for results quickly and with less patience. If people did not respond quickly or deliver as agreed, I would often draw a parallel in my mind, with myself. A quick thought would rage through my mind and body, “If I can do it, why can’t they?”

Fast forward to 2017. A lot has changed since then. I am much older, wiser and experienced in the areas of getting work done. Overtime, I have realized the strengths of others are important and not in comparison with my own strengths but for what they are for the individual. I learnt the age old trick to work with people’s strengths and not their opportunity areas. I don’t claim to be the master of this but life taught me a few lessons along the way and I try and follow them as much as I can.

It is often true that people get caught between the rights and wrongs in life, things they have learnt and experienced and often hold as standards for themselves. It is so natural to align oneself to a north star and do everything in accordance with what that north star is like. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. However, I am wondering if that is enough to lead? Is it enough for people to follow and feel inspired? Do people even realize a leader’s north star and relate to it? Are a lot of interpersonal conflict in the workplace not a result of lack of alignment or awareness to someone’s north star? Who is that someone actually? How does he think? What matters to him? Why are his actions so?

With that background, I want to talk about grace and its role in leadership. What is grace? It is the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful. Here are some thoughts to reflect on.

  1. In an organization, when do we fire people? What are the opportunities in all the decisions we have taken in the past where allowing a little grace would help the individual go a long way in his career? A second chance would teach him a bigger lesson in life and bring in focus that was missing earlier. What is the right and wrong here? Is it that we follow company policy because it is laid so or as a leader we can or must question and modify something that may no longer seem to hold value? How do we look at the greys in life and when do they become relevant?
  2. Firing maybe extreme but we often give up on people. We often have opinions about others that we are unwilling to change and believe them to be so true. We often find reasons and examples to make those opinions true. We live with those in our minds and prove their existence to ourselves again and again without looking at the big picture, without looking at the efforts (even though they may be small) made by the other. How would we make such a relationship work? We don’t choose the people we work with, we often inherit them and we have to deliver.
  3. Don’t managers often expect their team members to deliver results the way they want the results – in a more micro way? So either a smart team member quickly adapts and delivers the way the boss wants it or the relationship suffers in general. Wouldn’t this relationship deliver more value if both act as partners and demonstrate alignment to the big picture?

Would are reactions or responses change if we add grace to the above? Would we have a more powerful output with grace? Would we solve more with grace? I would think so. Grace adds the wisdom and thoughtfulness to look at another’s perspective, it allows one to expand himself to a larger world view, it allows one to include more rights in his list of rights and wrongs, it allows one to expand his north star.

I find myself in situations frequently where there is a choice between right and wrong as defined but still doesn’t feel right. Individuals continue to evolve and so do organizations. What was true a few years ago may not be relevant today. It is therefore important to make that discretionary effort and call it grace – do what is right for you, the individual or the organization.

Grace is the one extra step that great leaders take to help solve a situation today but for the impact to last for a long time. Grace helps people get better at what they do. Grace helps people understand the needs of others. When leadership includes grace, people tend to display the highest levels of discretion in their jobs, going the extra mile and producing outstanding results. Of course, there are other factors too that lead to this level of performance as well but grace is a rock solid contributor.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)