Several years ago, I read a book about leadership that introduced the idea of sociological grace. I was struck that grace could be a sociological and environmental concept within an organization. Traditionally, the term grace is used in faith-based environments and usually refers to God’s gracious gifts to each of us, even though we are undeserving.
The concept of organizational grace
When considering definitions of grace-filled leadership, I found it intriguing to figure a way to apply the concept to the people in the entire organization. In particular, I thought of it in relation to creating leaders who give grace to those for whom they are responsible (stewardship).
Basic to grace-filled leadership is the truth that everyone in the organization deserves the same respect and dignity. Each person should be accepted unconditionally because each person has great value and needs to be nurtured and encouraged by leadership.
People make mistakes
Also core to the concept is that no individual in any organization is perfect; each makes mistakes. It has often been said that the test of leadership’s compassion for others is most apparent when an employee messes up. The initial response when the error occurs is a key moment in the relationship between leaders and those that they lead.
I rarely find that people intend to make mistakes. I also find that people tend to make mistakes because they are stressed or extremely nervous about their performance.
It is a defining moment for a leader to be gracious when someone makes a mistake. It gives a leader a unique opportunity to assume the best of someone and grant the gift of forgiveness. After all, leaders are not perfect either.
People have weaknesses
Important to grace-filled leadership is the willingness to overlook weaknesses. I firmly believe that leaders who see those who are in their sphere of leadership as their stewardship will emphasize and deploy individuals by strengths and minimize the impact of their weaknesses.
This does not mean that weaknesses are not acknowledged, but it means people are not shamed because of them. Too often, I have seen individuals be blamed, ridiculed and criticized because of a weakness or limitation. Grace-filled leaders avoid shame; rather, they empower those they influence.
When people fail significantly or, perhaps, intentionally, a grace-filled leader will attempt to find out why the failure occurred then help the person determine a path of restoration and recovery.
During the process, the leader protects privacy, works diligently to find needed help with accountability, and structures the process to rebuild trust. This effort requires both patience and willingness to undertake some risk, but time and time again, I have found that helping people through their failures is not only transformational but it instills long-term loyalty. Giving someone what they do deserve is not all that exceptional, but giving someone what they do not deserve is something they will always remember.
Finally, grace-filled leaders are driven by values that epitomize caring for others. Creating environments of care requires a great deal of time, effort and sacrifice. It is a significant commitment to give people holistic organizational grace, an environment that is unique in our world of organizations.
While we often espouse the value of caring for our customers and clients, we sometimes fail to realize that our best asset and true stewardship lies in the care of our wonderful staff. I believe that leaders who establish environments of grace will find great fulfillment in the depth of growth they establish in the people they are leading.
Particularly in my field of caring for family and children, I think our very stressed staff really do need sociological grace in their work environment. I also truly believe that commitment, dedication, productivity and loyalty will be the natural outcomes of grace-filled leadership.
Can you imagine a nation of organizations that continually support their staff with these kinds of values and environments? I know we would have many more healthy environments with dynamic leadership and healthy relationships in every aspect of the organization.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network