Leadership of Grace
John Baldoni is one of the world’s prominent experts on leadership. I’ve been a fan of his work for years. He is one of the most generous, kind, and intelligent leadership coaches and teachers that I have met.
His new book, Grace: A Leaders Guide to a Better Us, is about the power of leaders serving others and creating a culture of kindness that impacts others in profound ways. Excellent leaders are known for character as well as results. One without the other removes that individual from consideration as a great leader.
I recently spoke with John about his work Grace. And, full disclosure, I was honored to be one of the leaders interviewed in the book. I’m proud to be alongside such amazing leaders as Stephen M.R. Covey, Sally Helgesen, Alan Mulally, Tim Sanders, and the others who participated.
“Grace offers redemption to us all. It gives steel to our spines as well as humility to our souls.” -John Baldoni
You’re one of my go-to experts on all things: leadership with countless books, articles, and videos for those at any level. Leadership and grace are not always thought of together. For those who have not yet read your book, how are they linked and why did you choose to make this your focus?
Grace is a topic that has intrigued me for quite some time. I first wrote of it more than a decade ago in my book Lead by Example when I cited the example of the Amish grandfather who had lost two grandchildren in a 2006 shooting that occurred in his community. He gave an interview in which he said that it was important to forgive the shooter.
From where does that urge to forgive emerge? It comes from grace. In that same book I also wrote about grace as the sense of élan, fluidity and ease. This kind of grace we see in art and athletics, the easy grace by which dancers move and ballplayers glide. Looking more deeply artists have what good leaders have: a sense of centeredness that emerges from grace.
I have written a great deal about purpose. Purpose begins – as many have said –with our why. Purpose is the answer to, “What gets you up in the morning?” From purpose comes vision and mission. Vision is an aspiration; it is our becoming. Mission is our doing; it is our building. And here’s where grace enters the picture. Grace is our how.
For example, you can be a hard-driving individual consumed with achieving a vision and mission and all that goes along with it. You may achieve success; your goals may be fulfilled, but when you step back, ask yourself, “How did I do this? With people, or in spite of people?” Grace provides the impetus for doing things that make the organization better and the people in it more fulfilled.
Ultimately how becomes pertinent when you ask: How do you want to want to be remembered? Answers to that question will focus your attention on what matters most to you.
Your book is filled with examples and stories that are powerful and moving. It is one that people will want to keep in a personal leadership library. Let’s do a very quick fly-over of the GRACE acronym just to give readers a flavor, though it is impossible in this article to go into great depth:
“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
G is for Generosity
You start with generosity which is not something that the hardened “focus-on-the-bottom-line” types would focus on as a beginning. Talk about this and why generosity should be an area of focus for all leaders.
Leaders with grace look at life in the spirit of abundance. There is plenty for all of us to share. If you operate with a scarcity mindset, you hoard resources and power. When you think of sharing, you give people responsibility for determining their own future. You “empower” them to do what’s good for the team, and themselves.
R is for Respect
Would you share an example or a way that you can practice respect toward others?
Respect begins by looking at people with an open mind and open heart. As those whom I interviewed told me, respect is rooted assuming the best in others rather than the worst. Too often we assume we know someone, and often the information is incorrect. So, we start off assuming something pejorative, that the person doesn’t quite measure up. Treating with respect begins by making your own judgment about someone after they have shown themselves to you.
“It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” -Susan Sontag
A is for Action
A is for action. I’m personally biased toward this one. Tell us why this one is a critical component of graceful leadership.
Of course, Skip, you are biased for action because you are an executive who also happens to be an exceptional leader. You know how to bring out the best in others because your job is to make things happen, and the only way you can do that is to enlist people to help you achieve vision and mission of your business.
Grace transmutes action into a force for good.
C is Compassion
You talk in this chapter about serving others and about compassionate courage. Some will say, “John, you have it, or you don’t.” What do you say to those people? How do leaders develop a spirit of compassion for others even if they feel like it isn’t inherent in their personality?
True enough some of us have more compassion than others, but so often we exert compassion in response to a situation. We see someone in need, and we feel for them and wish to help. That’s the response provoked when we see TV images of people suffering.
On the more personal level, compassion is the willingness to connect to others. It is the willingness to commit to service. In GRACE, I write about Father Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country. Father Greg, in his own book, Barking to the Choir, writes about “radical kinship” with others as a means of connecting to them. We simply offer our presence to people who may need it. Our presence becomes our willingness to engage with others one to one. Such kinship is rooted in compassion.
You also spoke of courage which I believe is a component of grace. Grace is a force for good, and when times are challenging it will require courage to stand up for what it right. For example, when a team fails an objective, a manager may be tempted to denigrate and assign blame. A boss acting in the spirit of grace will take responsibility and seek remedies by finding solutions.
E is for energy
Negative thoughts are draining because they suck the life out of us. So, when tempted to think negatively about others, shift focus to the good people can do rather than the bad. If these people are bad actors, avoid them.
There is something else important and that is to think positively of yourself. Yes, you—like the rest of humanity—is not perfect. We fall short of our expectations for ourselves. When that occurs, make amends to those you hurt and at the same time, forgive yourself. You can and will do better, if you allow yourself to.
In Grace, I conclude with a handbook of best practices for enacting grace. I begin the section with a thought I call “Focus on Better.” Consider better as a mindset that you can adapt to work and to interpersonal relations. You define better as actions you will take to be a better colleague, friend or leader.
For more information, see Grace: A Leaders Guide to a Better Us.