Leaders Choose Grace
In the past 60 days, my tribe has celebrated 2 milestones - my eldest turning a 'ten-ager', and my youngest a 'two-nado'.
Bearing witness to their evolutions has been a marvel, and provides an endless source of exhaustion, pride, and wonderment.
It's interesting to me how we provide so much grace to children as they grow.
For example, we don't shout at an infant - "Hey, you! Stop fooling around. Stand up and walk already!!"
We understand and accept that it will take hundreds if not thousands of attempts of a baby, pulling themselves up, attempting to put one foot in front of the other, and falling many, many times before being able to walk.
Equally, if a 2nd grader fails a spelling test, we don't reprimand them and threaten to flunk them out of class. We understand and accept that with practice and repetition their spelling will improve. In other cases, like that of one of my own children, we might take the added measure of evaluating their learning ability, and put supportive services in place to accommodate their unique way of being, so that they might be on level with others.
And so, with all the 1st hand and vicarious exposure that we have to how humans learn, grow and develop, why do we choose to omit this level of grace and understanding when it comes to performance in the workplace?
A new system or protocol is introduced into a workplace; team members are provided a one-off training and expected to operate the new function without error. Underperformance is met with 'progressive disciplinary actions' (your garden variety write up, leading up to and including termination…you know the drill…)
A leader is brought in and given a timeframe to 'whip a team into shape', and ratchet up productivity. Timeline passes, team productivity does not meet expectation. Leader is chided for 'failure of Leadership' and placed on a Performance Improvement Plan.
A team member continually struggles with a task and asks for accommodations. Team member request is denied, and told that task is requirement of expectations and if they are unable to meet them....(you get the idea).
Is there some existential force field that we cross when we enter a workplace that elevates our level of being such that everything, we do is perfect?
Is there some esoteric dimension reserved for only the best of us that can only be reached by establishing a track record of subduing staff into compliance with tactics of fear and indifference?
Why is failure in the professional setting used to build a case for lack of value, versus a baseline for potentiality?
Why do we omit grace from Leadership in the workplace?
I’ve had many occasions in my career in which I was ‘mentored’ to believe that allowing for grace in Leadership suggests accepting substandard performance. That that is in fact the opposite of Leadership, and explicit evidence of a misunderstanding of my role as well as a display of poor boundaries,
I’ve been labeled as “too nice” …a characterization that was frequently weaponized against me by those who perpetrated agendas which relied upon a stable culture of fear.
So, here’s where I tell you something that I think you already know…
1. Grace is showing kindness when someone is struggling – Ex. Someone who is usually a high performer, uncharacteristically delivers an assignment past deadline – try “hey, I know you ‘ve had a lot on your plate lately, so I thought I’d check in – is there anything I can do for you? Is there something that’s getting in your way that perhaps I can help with? Help me understand what’s going on for you”
2. Grace is being transparent and displaying vulnerability – Ex. Things aren’t going according to plan. Try sharing freely with your team the things you are struggling with – ex. “It seems that things are not happening as I expected. I’m not sure what the full impact of this shift will entail, but here’s what I do know….” Communication like this doesn’t cause fear, it actually helps build confidence and comfort. It confirms for folx that they aren’t doing or seeing something wrong – that life is just unfolding, and whatever may come, you will get through it together as a team.
3. Grace is seeking to understand - - Ex. A staff member you manage has never been an exceptional performer. Instead of concluding that they need to be ‘managed out’ of their position, try continuing to manage their specific performance deficits while holding space for the realization that it might take them longer than expected to progress.
Grace is awareness activated.
It is the act of making space for an experience of life that is different than yours. A space where you apply empathy and compassion.
It’s the ability to recognize your perspective, not JUST in your experience.
It is a level of being that when achieved, allows others to reveal more of themselves to you, and feel safe to do so.
And when folx feel psychologically safe in the workplace, valued, cared about and for, they not only bring their best self to their work, but they make the workplace a healthy place to work for all.
But you can’t just talk the talk when it comes to ‘Grace.
Leaders have to consistently show up by modeling it, promoting it, and setting the conditions for Grace to thrive.
THIS not only enriches the work life of staff, but it’s a pretty healthy way of being with oneself as well.
So, if in reflection you find that there is more room for Grace in your leadership practice – remember “Charity starts at home”.
Practice grace with yourself. Because after all:
‘You, Yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection’ - Buddha
I’m curious…have you ever experienced grace in the workplace? What did it look like?
I’d love to learn from you…comment below!