This is not a religious post. Nor a political one. It’s a post about the power of grace in leadership.
In the wake of the slaying of nine African American worshippers in Charleston, SC, President Obama faced a leadership challenge of unimaginable magnitude. He needed to confront injustices and to calm fears. Perhaps most of all, he needed to hold the African American community in his arms to grieve a devastating act.
At the memorial service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney last week, Mr. Obama could easily have hidden behind his office and delivered a dispassionate, “presidential” tribute. Instead, he led with a most vulnerable act: a heartfelt, imperfect rendition of Amazing Grace.
How do we know that this was an act of grace-full leadership and not a manipulative political stunt? Because we know grace when we see it. We can see it in the faces of the people convened to mourn the Emmuel 9. We can see in their eyes the relief of being honored from the highest level in the land. We can see awe and joy amidst the sorrow. We can see people deeply met.
Through this act, President Obama brought to life his own words:
Justice grows out of the recognition of ourselves in each other… The path of grace involves not only an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.
If you lead, you may face some small version of this moment. Maybe you already have. Maybe your company’s pension fund was just wiped out. Or your team’s prized program was just eliminated from the budget. Or a beloved employee died without warning. In these moments, when our identity or reality is shaken, we don’t need a leader equipped only with a good plan, a sound strategy or a compelling rationale.
Sometimes, what we need most is a leader’s amazing grace.