The election of Donald Trump reflects a longing in many Americans for a “grittier” form of national leadership. His supporters see him as someone who will kick some butt and get stuff done; who tells it like it is, whether you like it or not; who breaks convention in pursuit of a goal; who draws clear distinctions between “us” and “them;” who won’t back down from a fight.
Fair enough. Grit is a critical component of leadership. It brings needed clarity, urgency and momentum. It sets ambitious goals and fosters bold innovation. It’s unafraid to break things in order to build them.
Here’s the catch. Neither grit nor grace can stand on its own. Each element needs the other to be a positive, productive force. From that perspective, one of Trump’s greatest leadership vulnerabilities is his over reliance on grit as the sole lever for influence.
He is hardly alone in that. Of all the challenges that thwart my clients’ effectiveness, grit-dependency is easily the most common. Crippled by a one-note strategy for influence, the leader’s impact is predictable: directness becomes intimidation, accountability becomes weapon, and reinvention becomes chaos. And what happens when leaders intimidate, punish and destabilize? Followers check out, in-fight or rebel – which will slow, halt or reverse the very momentum that the grit leader is trying to create. What was once a strength becomes a weakness and begets dysfunction.
When grit-based leaders embrace elements of grace, such as compassion, humility and deep listening, their grit is restored to health. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s about results. When leaders right the blend of grit and grace, their effectiveness soars, morale increases and results improve. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work.
So by all means, strive for results. But whether you’re leading a country, a corporation, a team or a household – and want to do it well – don’t kick grace to the curb.