“If you had to think about it, how many people in this world would you say are “gracious”? Really…think about it…”
I remember the look on her face when she said, “50%.”
“So, one out of every two people are gracious?”
“Yes, because people are gracious when you do well, but when you fail, they aren’t.”
Many of us, like my employee did a year or two ago, feel the same way. We believe people will be gracious to us if we don’t fail–as long as we continue to succeed, people will be gracious, but, if we don’t, they will leave us or come down on us (hard). But I can’t blame this employee because our lives are all-too-often bound to conditions. You give me A, and I will give you B. If you don’t give me A, I won’t give you B.
I’ve been blessed for years now with a great group of people to lead and challenge. I’ve enjoyed spending time one-on-one with them and empowering them to grow as leaders and invest in their context. Time and time again, I am faced with this sense in those who’ve been under my supervision that I (or the institution) will accept them only if they do well and reject them whenever they fail. We might have never given that impression, but deep down inside everyone believes that’s the way it works (and maybe even should work). If you don’t get this done on time, rejection. If you don’t get good responses to your project or event, rejection. If you do, pat on the back and a box of chocolates. If you do…acceptance. A life built on conditions.
But leaders need to be beyond this. As leaders, if our people leave our presence with a list of things they need to improve, but don’t know we have their backs no matter what, we’ve failed. More positively, leaders are in the business of spreading grace. Leaders must give people the space to grow, and that space means providing grace to those under their supervision and guidance. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold people responsible for their actions (we should), but it does mean we will back them up. It means, when you fail, I will be there. It means, if you don’t give me A, I will still give you B. Leadership shouldn’t be defined by conditions. They should be defined by grace. If someone leaves your office with a list of things to do, they should also be left with, “Even if you try and it doesn’t work out, I will be there, and we’ll try again.”
If leaders are even more honest, the reason why we define our relationship with our employees by conditions is that we are “control freaks.” If they don’t perform well, it reflects poorly on us. So we setup boundaries and force people into them. But we need to be able to give the space and be OK with the failure. We need to pick people up when they fail and pat them on the back when they succeed. Failure isn’t the enemy. It’s just another opportunity for the leader to define his or her leadership by grace.
If you consider yourself a leader, I would challenge you to think about this. What would it look like to move beyond leadership defined by conditions to leadership defined by grace? I would encourage you to go for it–be a leader defined by grace! You’ll be surprised by the results, buy-in, and growth of those under your supervision. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”