The following is adapted from The Power of a Graceful Leader.
For many leaders in our world today, servant leadership or conscious leadership is the goal. Servant leaders are giving and humble. Conscious leaders are self-aware and inspiring.
However, while both of these types of leadership are beautiful and important, I believe the most effective leaders are the ones that also take hold of graceful leadership. Graceful leadership is the challenging task of showing up as your whole, authentic, integrated self as you lead.
While graceful leadership has powerful results, it is often the hardest type of leadership to actually take hold of. It requires totally re-learning the way we were taught to show up in our spheres of influence.
Even when we recognize the need for grace, we still resist it, seeing it as too inconvenient, too painful, too much work, and too risky, too unattainable. Those are valid concerns, but grace does not shy away from the difficult conversations. So let’s talk about them.
The Inconvenience of Grace
Grace can feel terribly inconvenient. Sometimes, it requires sacrifices. As an example, I want to be a good steward of the land, and I also want a gas stove. However, if I have a gas stove, then that means I will be buying propane, and if I am buying propane, that means I’m supporting fracking, which, for me, is not being a good steward of the land.
You see the dilemma? So now I have to learn how to use an induction stove, even though I would rather continue using a gas stove. This example is a relatively small inconvenience. However, even small inconveniences can add up, leaving us angry and frustrated.
Grace requires us to embrace the inconvenience. Embrace the challenge. Doing the aligned thing is more important than doing the easy thing. The inconveniences will never go away.
What will change is how you handle the challenges. Grace is a skill that you can build like any other. As you practice grace, you open up awareness of yourself and of everything. It’s a constant refining, and it requires patience and practice.
The Pain of Grace
One of the challenges of grace is that it can dredge up negative emotions. Embrace those feelings, because that is a door to grace for yourself. When I stopped and looked at the fact that a lot of people were calling me a jerk, it brought up shame and guilt. That told me that there was something there that was worth exploring.
We tend to shy away from pain. Sometimes, though, we need to lean into the pain in order to heal, like the sharp sting of cleaning a wound. When we open up an inquiry—like when I analyzed why people called me a jerk and why that bothered me—we move into consciousness, which opens the possibility of grace.
This process requires vulnerability and courageous authenticity. If you are willing to be courageously authentic and work through these issues, you will find that the pain is temporary and diminishes over time. You will still rub up against sore spots from time to time. However, you will get more and more skilled at processing through those emotions with loving grace for yourself and the world at large.
The Work of Grace
Nearly every leader has felt the pressure of getting results at some point. Whether it’s our boss, our shareholders, or the voice of our ego, we hear again and again the mantra of “Results, results, results!” When faced with this pressure, it’s easy to dismiss grace as too time consuming or expensive.
“I don’t have time for grace.” I hear this all the time, and I’ve said it myself just as many times. Struggling with an ever-expanding queue of to-do items, we forget to slow down and be present.
Being graceful is work. That work is worth it, because grace is not an obstacle to results; it is a path to them. The path of grace only appears to be less efficient. In reality, you can get the exact same results with grace that you get using command-and-control tactics, and the journey there will be much more pleasant.
The Risk of Grace
Often, I work with leaders who want to lead with more grace, yet think it’s too risky for their work environment. While many leaders feel in their gut that they need to be more present, kind, and inquiring, they’re told, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, by the business to not do that.
“HR says I don’t have a right to ask about someone’s personal life,” clients tell me. “So when I notice a change in someone’s behavior, what am I supposed to do beyond asking why they’re not meeting their metrics?”
Too many companies are built on inconsistent and unclear cultures, so this is a real challenge. The solution is to not poke and pry and rather to create space for the other person to come into. Sometimes they will open up, and sometimes they won’t. As the leader, your job is simply to set the groundwork for the possibility and then accept whatever the outcome is.
As with anything worth doing, there are risks with grace. As Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre said, “To push oneself to one’s limits inevitably involves risk, otherwise they wouldn’t be one’s limits. This is not to say that you deliberately try something which you know you cannot do. But you do deliberately try something which you are not sure you can do.”
A Case for Grace
Why aren’t more people taking hold of grace as they lead? I believe most of us simply don’t hear the calling toward grace, or if we do, we hear it only intermittently in our lives. We may play with it for a minute, and then we put it away because it feels too difficult.
However, if you can move through the inconvenience, pain, work, and risk of graceful leadership, you will find that grace in leadership is unimaginably powerful.
For more advice on graceful leadership, you can find The Power of a Graceful Leader on Amazon.
Alexsys Thompson offers this body of work as a testament to her own leadership journey, as well as the journey of hundreds of other leaders. For Alexsys, the tipping point came when she established her gratitude practice and spent a decade refining it. Today, developing a gratitude practice is a key element of her work as a board-certified executive coach. Alexsys also serves as adjunct staff for The Center for Creative Leadership and is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She authored The Trybal Gratitude Journals, curated a collection of short stories called Gratitude 540, and is building a retreat center in Vermont that will be a “safe space for souls to show up.”