I think most of grace when I encounter people on the street asking for spare change. If I have change jangling around in my pocket -- or if I’m feeling generous, an extra dollar -- I will just give it to them. Every so often, I hear random people angrily yell at the person begging: “Get a job!” or “I work hard for my money!” And I witness people get really irate about being asked for something from someone they don’t feel deserves it or they fear might squander what is given to them.
Well, “Get a job” is not grace. Grace is giving when people don’t deserve it, can’t possibly do anything for you in return, or may even take what is given for granted. In fact, I see people on the street asking for spare change as one of the best opportunities for me to practice grace in its purest form. If you do something for me because I deserve it or you do something for me and then wait for me to do something back in exchange, you have not shown grace to me. You aren't showing grace to me if you give me something out of the kindness of your heart and then make a values judgement about what I do with your gift.
Grace by definition is unearned – that is the whole point. Grace puts down judgment and just shows forgiveness and love to another person. When I hear people calling out, “Get a job!” my mind thinks of how frequently those very same people will want grace shown to them in other areas of their life. I think of all the times they will want to be forgiven or shown love when what they deserve might actually be quite the opposite. People are often a little too comfortable judging in others what they can't see in themselves.
If grace is a strong personal value, it can be a difficult one to integrate into management. In the case of managing people, grace does not mean promoting people who haven’t earned it or letting someone’s poor performance slide. There are some definite ways, though, that we can bring grace as a leadership skill into our professional lives in productive ways. Consider the following:
Quid Pro Quo No More
Do something to benefit someone’s career when they can in no way turn around and do something to benefit yours. This is actually the basis of many mentor and mentee relationships. Work with the people under you – whether paid staff or volunteer – and identify one thing you can do that would benefit them professionally. What opportunities are available -- or can you create -- for someone with their competency that you might currently feel they don't deserve or haven't earned yet? Is it selecting them for a high profile assignment, introducing them to a key contact, or spending extra time to ensure they learn what they need?
Even if they don’t deserve it, won't appreciate it, or you're convinced they will squander it, extend the offer anyway. Consider it an experiment to see what happens. People do not change or grow into greater roles unless the people around them treat them in new or greater ways. People don't become more responsible unless we first trust them with greater responsibility. Even in the concept of grace, many people don't understand the value of it until it is first shown to them.
Wipe a Slate Clean
Be willing to look at someone who has failed you, demonstrated a poor work ethic, or disappointed you professionally in some way and give them a second chance. I’m as guilty of this one as anybody when it comes to assigning a negative label to certain people and then putting them in a box to the side – safely out of my thoughts and definitely off the list of future sweet assignments. Erase someone’s past with you and bring them back as if they were brand new.
This is easier said than done I know. I’ve practiced this advice myself more than a few times and I have to say the number of times people have shown me a better version of themselves has been rather small. Many times the people I've given second chances have just proved to be the exact same person they always were. The point here is the willingness to see someone anew and to periodically give them the actual chance to be someone new. It's worth it for the few who have legitimately done the work to change and need the chance to show it and prove themselves again.
Grace and management may not instinctively go well together but there are times when what is right fights against our more stubborn -- and some might say judgmental -- ways.
Is grace in leadership possible? Should it be a value in how you conduct your professional relationships? Use the comments below to join the discussion:
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