Do You Train for Gracious Leadership?

Gracious executives and managers listen with purpose, recognize they don’t have all the answers, and demonstrate uncompromising respect for everyone, according to author Janet Smith Meeks.

A colleague I encountered in the workplace couldn’t accept an acknowledged mistake or needed correction from a co-worker graciously. She couldn’t resist hammering home a chastisement and (almost always unnecessary) explanation about why the error was bad.

I chose not to reflect this colleague’s behavior back to her when she was the errant one, however. I accepted her acknowledgement of the error and correction with a simple thank you. I decided, in other words, unlike her, to be gracious.

What Is Gracious Leadership?

There is a value to having a workplace where being gracious, rather than petty, is the norm. In addition to accepting the acknowledgement and correction of mistakes without using these errors as an opportunity to slam a colleague, being gracious means doing a task that may not be part of your job description. In my own career, for instance, I have shared in the wooing and management of advertising clients, though, technically speaking, as a writer and editor, I should not be involved in that work.

I found a piece about gracious leadership on the Website of financial institution KeyCorp. The company participated in a community networking event featuring a fireside chat between KeyBank Central Ohio Market President Melissa Ingwersen and Janet Smith Meeks. The conversation centered on Smith Meeks’ recently published book, “Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.”

“Gracious leadership is about the power of respectful, positive leadership,” said Smith Meeks. “Gracious executives and managers listen with purpose, recognize they don’t have all the answers, and demonstrate uncompromising respect for everyone. They unfailingly give credit for successes to the team. And here’s the bottom line: Teams led by gracious leaders can and do achieve peak performance.”

Avoid Unnecessary Dressing Downs

From my experience, being respectful and positive means avoiding the almost-always unnecessary practice of dressing down colleagues. It also means that if a colleague does a great job overall, but occasionally missteps or lets a task fall through the cracks, you treat them according to the big picture of their work versus fixating on isolated incidents.

When an employee foregoes gratitude, and chooses instead to play “gotcha,” a message is sent to their co-workers that the focus is not on their valuable contribution to the company. They are left feeling like they must adopt a defensive mindset instead of embracing their work with unencumbered enthusiasm and passion. They begin to become fearful and neurotic, always on the alert for anything they might do—or not do—that the ungracious colleague could use to create blowback for them.

Avoid Rewarding Lack of Graciousness

A great way to quash lack of graciousness in a corporate culture is to avoid rewarding it. If a manager or executive gets negative feedback or a rant about an overall high-performing employee due to what appears to be a rare error, the information should be greeted with wariness: “Thanks for letting me know about that, Shirley. I think, however, that given Judy’s overall impressive performance, these rare errors should be put into context. While we all strive for flawless performance, the occasional error for an employee with an incredibly heavy workload is certainly understandable. Knowing Judy, I’m sure she is much more upset about this error than you are—no need for a dressing down, and no need to explain to her why it’s bad.”

If the ungracious employee persists and argues that the errors are not rare enough, the manager or executive should take the matter entirely out of that employee’s hands: “From what I have observed, I believe it IS a rare occurrence, but I will chat with Judy about it when I happen to speak to her next.”

It’s important that the manager receiving information from the ungracious employee sends a message that they don’t agree about the urgency of a matter that appears to be petty. It’s also important for the manager to note patterns of behavior. Is it common for this employee to report petty mistakes made by high-performing co-workers? If so, there’s a good chance a problem greater than petty errors is the damage the ungracious employee is doing to the company’s workplace culture.

Is graciousness a leadership quality your organization strives to cultivate?