Grit and Grace…On Behalf of What?

I usually steer away from philosophy in this blog, focusing more on practical leadership topics. But from time to time, I think it’s important to step back from the ‘how to’ of leading with grit & grace and look more deeply at the ‘why.’  On behalf of what does this work exist?

The underlying purpose of Leading With Grit & Grace™ is to help individuals and institutions address what I call the ‘tyranny of success.’ On one hand, it is critically important to establish what we’re good at. This forms the very foundation of our effectiveness. For example, a leader discovers that she gets great results by being understanding with her people, so she adopts a compassionate leadership style. A company sees a spike in profits by downsizing, and develops a core ethos of ‘doing more with less.’ In other words: we take an action; we like the result. So we “rinse and repeat” a few times, and pretty soon, we’ve got a bona fide formula for success.  Great, right?

Not necessarily. We humans tend to fall truly, madly and deeply in love with what works for us, and this can become a problem. Over time, we may stop paying attention to whatever falls outside our loving gaze, and our attentions and actions become imbalanced without our knowing it. Seemingly out of nowhere, our once-reliable strategy for success starts to wreak havoc: not because it’s the wrong strategy, but because it’s built on a partial set of values that we believe to be complete. Sure, it’s great to be good to your people.  But at some point, too much kindness will tank your efficacy.  It’s great to maximize efficiency. But continually stressing your people and resources will ultimately exact a heavy price.

The tyranny of success occurs when we lean on one set of values (and their resulting behaviors) and neglect their necessary opposites: kindness to the neglect of firmness; profits to the neglect of sustainability; ambition to the neglect of service; growth to the neglect of recovery and stabilization.  It is in the forgetting of these necessary opposites that our strengths become liabilities and can begin to do real harm.  It is from this forgetting that burn-out, abuse, complacency, greed, exploitation, and demoralization arise.

So regardless of the scale or context in which we are working, the work we do at Leading With Grit & Grace™ is always about helping people and institutions to transcend the tyranny of their success, and to develop a more balanced and sustainable form of thought, action and impact. It is on behalf of this intention that we exist.

What about you?

What are your (or your institution’s) formulas for success?

What values are at the core of your formula?

What do those values make possible for you and others?

What are the positive opposites of those values?  Which of these positive opposites might you be overlooking or undervaluing?

How might you integrate some of those neglected values more fully to support your success?

10 replies
  1. Tami
    Tami says:

    Leslie, I love the way you laid out the partiality of the way most of us operate, and provided a framework to examine how these opposites play out in our lives! I can see it so clearly in the success formula I used in the past, which was to work myself into the ground to get the job done. The value behind this behavior was commitment to the mission, and more deeply, to proving myself. These values made it possible to create meaningful and successful accomplishment of the mission and gave me a sense of worthiness. The positive opposite value of commitment to the mission and proving myself is self-care, which I totally undervalued and overlooked. I ended up burned out and sick. Now I do my best to integrate both commitment and self-care, and am dedicated to helping others do so. Sometimes the results occur more slowly than what I would have experienced under the previous formula for success, yet they are better. I am helping others in super meaningful ways, and by maintaining my health and wellbeing, I can work to keep making a contribution in the years to come.

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Tami, thank you for sharing your very personal experience with imbalance coming into balance. I think this is one of the most concrete and powerful examples of this that I’ve heard. I’m coming to see that there is what I call a “third way.’ It’s more than a BALANCE of grit and grace, but rather a braiding together of them. That third way has a completely different feel and has exponentially greater potential for wise impact. I think you’re showing it to us – ever committed to the purpose of service, fortified by the strength that comes from your own self care. It is neither grit nor grace. Maybe it’s generativity.

  2. Joan Brooks
    Joan Brooks says:

    Leslie, I love this message of balance and fuller scope. As I read your article, I had a vision of a teeter-totter (maybe because I took a walk in the park this afternoon), with one side weighed down with “compassion” or “bottom line concerns”. With one side weighed down and the other side dangling uselessly in the air, the fulcrum (or pivot point) went unused and wasted. The teeter-totter (company) was very limited in it’s ability to move and respond – out of balance and without the ability to realize it’s full scope of potential. If an equal weight of “firmness” or “sustainability” were added to the other side, the teeter-totter (company) would then be able to adjust and move as needed, with a much wider range of possibilities and potential.

    I’m considering the balance of my own teeter-totter. Right now, one end is weighed down with volunteer and unpaid service. The positive opposite of this is providing services for which I’m justly compensated. I’ve know for some time that I’m out of balance in this way. Your article has once again brought this to light. Now, to put some paying clients/services on the other end!

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Joan, thank you for your thoughtful-as-ever reflections! I like the image of the teeter totter. There is an exquisite tension when both ends are in balance. It seems like the fulcrum is its own, powerful location that is greater than either of the ends. And we have all experienced the harm that can come when one person (one polarity) is much lighter than the other or if he jumps off altogether! I had never thought about the imbalance creating a lack of organizational responsiveness. But you’re right – from that place of imbalance, there’s almost no potential for adjustment, movement or agility. It’s a very stuck place, and I think that both individuals and organizations get there, ironically as a result of past success.

      Thank you so much for this fresh perspective! And may the scales come into potent balance for you!

  3. Jeanne Muir
    Jeanne Muir says:

    Being in the hospitality business, I try to keep one tenet in mind each day: ‘Everyday, for good or ill, we intersect with some else’s story and become a part of it.’ I hope at the end of the day that the scales are heavier on the side of good, especially for my guests.

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Jeanne, you are definitely a consistently positive part of the story of many people I know who visit Shepherdstown. For many, the Thomas Shepherd Inn is a cornerstone of their experience here, and for them, it’s not really a visit if they haven’t stayed with you.

      So I think your tenet is alive and well!

  4. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    hmmm, you really got me thinking. I have been a housewife for many years so I was more service with the neglect of ambition. It has been so long that I am struggling to find my footing. As Joan pointed out I’m heavy on one side that the other is hanging useless and does not seem to be able to get it’s footing. I think my struggle is how to get and find that footing?

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Hi, Joanne. I know how hard it is to try to right a strong imbalance. The scale of change seems impossibly large (so why start?), and yet little steps seem meaninglessly small (so why continue?). Checkmate. My experience is that he leverage does seem to come from taking tiny steps. It is easier to create motion once in motion. But one has to take the long view. At first, you can’t see the scales tip at all, so your efforts can seem fruitless. But step by tiny step, the weight does start to move toward the other pole and then the possibility for real movement occurs. There really is a ‘tipping point,’ before which nothing seems to be happening, and after which the world opens up. The trick is to hang in there when nothing seems to be happening. For these times, I think supportive structures are critical – whether in the form of deadlines, plans, or contact with trusted people who can hold you (or join you?) in your journey.

  5. Lorrie
    Lorrie says:

    The questions of balance seem to always be following me around, and I always appreciate the time I take to read the Leading with Grit and Grace blog because of the way it helps inform the questions themselves, as much as provide answers and information that leads to answers. My small role in the world, in my community, is my what…how do I be a good friend, neighbor, consumer, etc. and still know how to be good to myself in the center of all those roles and demands. Finding the balance of giving and receiving is my point of tension. Thanks for helping me remember that this morning.

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