What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “grace”? Is it approval or acceptance like “he stayed in their good graces”? Or a temporary reprieve like “it was only by the grace of God?” Do you think of ease and coordination like “she moved with grace?” My assumption is the first thing that comes to mind is the “unmerited acceptance of God.”
Leading with Grace
Whatever comes to mind, the word “grace” is used in multiple ways. It is the same with leading with grace. Some leaders of grace are described as charismatic. A charismatic leader is a person who has been graced with gifts and talents to lead. They are called spirit filled and are experienced as winsome, inviting, and exciting.
But too often, the focus is upon themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they become the mission. Unhealthy characteristics are often overlooked or managed to keep the leader in place.
Sometimes leading with grace is described as “people pleasing.” Now that sounds negative, but when a person who has the desire to lead has no healthy understanding of who they are relationally or spiritually, he or she becomes a leader of “anything goes.” They want people to like them, so they say “yes” to everything. There are few boundaries, if any, and mission and direction have little influence. Often the leader is mistakenly identified as leading with grace.
Sometimes leading with grace is identified as soft or weak because the leader is not seen as strong or decisive. There is indirect communication and passive-aggressive behavior. Collaboration and strategic thinking are sparce. There is poor time management and no conflict transformation skills. The leader is a lone ranger and is often isolated, surrounded by people who like being related to the leader.
The above scenarios are negative because most of the images of leading with grace are negative. For example, take the time in which you are leading today. There are people, who in the absence of true information, are making up their own stories and communicating false information. They have an agenda, and they are using fear to get what they want. Who they are as Jesus followers and what they are saying do not align, yet they are considered good leaders. Without going to the source to check out what they are being told, they make up what they do not know. It is a matter of self-protection.
Grace-Shaped Leadership Characteristics
So, what does this have to do with grace-shaped leadership? Leadership is about taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and then having the courage to develop that potential. There are many characteristics of good, impactful, and courageous leaders. One characteristic often overlooked and misunderstood is grace.
Let’s look at some of the characteristics of grace-shaped leaders and why those characteristics make a difference. Grace-shaped leaders are:
When you are generous you work with the assumption that people are doing the best they can. You give them the benefit of the doubt, offering support with praise and encouragement.
Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, defines generosity as the ability to “extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.” Being generous is not easy and does not come naturally. When faced with a leadership challenge, choose to be generous.
Start with yourself. Assume the people with whom you work want the best for you. Then, with that assumption, you can respond with grace before jumping to negative conclusions. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, people need kind, caring, and encouraging words and action to become who God created them to be.
So, as a grace shaped leader, lead by doing unto others as you want them to do unto you. Be generous with your assumptions and offer support with praise and encouragement.
You are created for relationships, for up close interaction with people. The way to lead is not by more rules but through right relationships. In a time when people are losing being with one another, you can lead people into the right relationship with each other.
Mother Teresa once said, “The worst disease I’ve ever seen is loneliness.” As trite as it might seem, it is true, people need people. You and I need each other. The value of relationships is immeasurable.
The theme in Matthew’s gospel is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live righteous lives.” Righteousness in Matthew’s gospel is not presented as principles and propositions. It is presented as living in relationship with family, friends, strangers, even enemies. Relationships are foundational to right living. As a Jesus follower, your faithfulness is seen in how well you love others, especially the people entrusted to your care.
So, as a grace-shaped leader, give your all to relationships. Embrace the fact that you are intimately connected to the people you meet each day. Develop relationships by following and living Jesus. Jesus will put you into right relationship with everyone you encounter along the way. Choose to be honest and open. Be a person of integrity. Love others as God in Christ Jesus as loved you.
When you are authentic you are true to yourself. You are a person of integrity. Regardless of the pressure you are facing, your values, ideals, and actions align. In other words, people experience your authenticity in your vulnerability and honesty.
As a leader, your authenticity opens a way for compassion. When you give yourself wholeheartedly to living and loving, you reveal who you truly are. Even when it is hard, it is your authenticity that invites grace, joy, and gratitude into your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.
Brene Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, writes: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.”
She continues with, “Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it is hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.”
So, as a grace-shaped leader, lead with courage knowing that you are worthy of love and acceptance just as you are. With that kind of authenticity, you are able to be open and honest as you invite more grace, gratitude, and joy into your leadership.
True courage comes when you decide to take a risk without knowing the outcomes. It means showing up and letting yourself be seen despite the risk. (Bene Brown)
Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable.”
Too often we think of courage as a valuable strength and vulnerability as a shameful weakness, but you can’t have courage without becoming vulnerable. Courage and vulnerability go hand-in-hand in grace-shaped leadership. As a leader, you show courage when you are curious because you are risking uncertainty. You show courage with compassion because it involves learning to move toward what scares you, learning to care for those with whom you disagree, and becoming vulnerable even when you know there is pain.
It takes courage to be quick to listen and slow to speak, to be slow to anger, and to use kind, caring, and encouraging words even with those for whom you do not care. It takes courage to be Christian in a non-Christian environment.
When you are empathetic you are able to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships, behaving compassionately, and leading courageously. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just your own.
There is no right or wrong way to be empathetic. It is simply listening for the sake of connecting and communicating the message, “I’m with you. You are not alone.” Even though there are no right or wrong ways to be empathetic, there are some simple exercises for increasing your empathy:
Talk to new people. Along with trying to imagine how some people feel, try asking them how they feel. Start a conversation with a stranger or invite a colleague or neighbor you do not know well to lunch. Go beyond small talk and ask them how they are doing. Put away your phone when you are having conversations. Even with the people you see every day. Listen fully and notice facial expressions and gestures.
Walk in someone else’s shoes. Spend time in a new neighborhood. Not only serve a meal with someone who is hungry but sit down and engage in conversation. Make time to attend a church, mosque, or synagogue to experience God from an unfamiliar perspective.
Share an experience with another person. Work on a service project together. Volunteer to serve meals together, to work on community garden, or join others who have experienced something similar.
The World Needs Grace-Shaped Leaders
Grace-shaped leadership is needed today more than any other time in my ministry. We have leaders who are seen as competent and impactful. My question is, are you shaped by grace in who you are as a leader. Grace is not a concept to be studied. It is a dynamic way of making a difference in the lives of the people you lead every day. We need grace-shaped leaders in a time when good, impactful, and courageous leadership is in high demand.
This week, look at who you are as a follower of Jesus and then measure your leadership with grace. How are you being led by grace? How are you leading by grace? Your honest answers to these questions will truly reveal “who you are is how you lead.”
Want to explore the above characteristics in more depth? Reach out and learn more about Dare to Lead.