The idea of being gracious sounds as if I am hosting a dinner party, and my goal is to be a gracious host. I imagine that one who is gracious is "full of grace" - and that has incredible implications for leadership. Leaders who are full of grace might:
- think before they speak - how many times do those first words out of one's mouth end up hurting someone? Emotionally aware leaders will put the brakes on, especially if they know they tend to be sarcastic or "witty." Begin gracious in one's speech sometimes means not speaking what you think, but speaking words that build up another's countenance.
- consider asking another's opinion - there is a built-in mechanism in most organziations that assumes those who have a title have more information with which to make better decisions. Gracious leaders will go to those who are closest to the issue and ask for their ideas and opinions - and invite them to be a part of the decision making process
- be quiet and listen - I think that gracious leaders are the ones who think about asking really good questions, and then shut up and listen - really listen. Allowing others to talk and engage in the thinking process is truly an act of grace, because it invites people into an enriching dialogue, not a one-way discussion
- not assume they are always right - one of the phrases I like to teach my students to be able to say is "I might be wrong." This is a powerful statement, as it shows vulnerability and allows others to perhaps be right, once again enriching the conversation
- allow for flexibility in his or her co-workers - there is so much more to life than work, and understanding that shows graciousness on the part of the leader. Acting on that understanding moves the leader to the next level
- always see the best in people - I believe that God has gifted everyone with a set of gifts, talents and skills, and that people truly want to use those in their lives. Helping others uncover and use those gifts can make a world of difference in an organization, as people are freed to live out their calling where God has placed them
- be a person of forgiveness - being able to say the words' I forgive you" may be one of the hardest things leaders have to do, because there is an assumption that in saying those words, there will be no accountability for actions that harm the organization. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship talks about "cheap grace" - grace that has no accountability or cost. I would say the same of forgiveness - cheap forgiveness can only do harm to an individual and an institution. A gracious leader is able to forgive and hold accountable, specifically because they are gracious
So how does one become a gracious leader? I think it begins with oneself - do I understand (really understand) how God has been gracious toward me...and can I then be gracious toward myself? Am I comfortable with my own gifts and talents...am I able to listen to myself...can I accept that I am wrong from time to time...can I look at my own work and see it as good...can I be flexible in my personal schedule...is there balance in my own life? As one comes to understand this aspect of self-leadership, they can then move into leading others in a gracious manner.
Special thanks to my friend Carrie for nudging me to write about this topic. I think that perhaps she has shown me gracious leadership by seeing that I should - and could - write about this topic. It's my prayer that she - and others - will set an example of gracious leadership among their co-workers and through that process create a gracious organization. Now doesn't that sound like a cool place to work?