by John Baldoni, author of “Grace Under Pressure: Leading Through Change and Crisis“
Values are the by-product of purpose — our why. Purpose sparks our vision — our becoming. It develops our mission — our doing. Purpose catalyzes us to achieve, but it does not say how we can achieve. Many people achieve greatness by acting more as a bulldozer than a tractor. A bulldozer flattens. A tractor pulls. In the former, the bulldozer steamrolls obstacles, even people. In the latter, a tractor drives ahead, drawing others in its wake.
There is a way to make purpose more compelling and appealing. We call it grace, a catalyst for the greater good. Purpose is not inherently full of grace. Instead, it is powered by ambition, drive, and ego. Those are positives when they are used by a true leader, one more interested in bringing people together than in steamrolling opposition.
How Grace Transforms Purpose: Grace complements purpose. If purpose is our why, then grace becomes our how—the way we do things here. Grace shapes the values that bind members to one another. Values underscore people feeling wanted. They believe they have a stake in the outcome. They know they belong. Grace transforms an organization into a community. Grace is inherent to the human condition. Some might say our DNA includes it because we, as humans, true to our tribal nature, are inclined to help those closest to us. Grace, however, knows no biological kinship; it creates spiritual kinship. We are connected to others.
Think About Mutual Benefit: An organization without grace is one where people feel fearful, uncertain, and perhaps unloved. Without grace, there can be no community. There may be an organization, but there is no connection. People feel they do not belong. An organization with grace becomes a community. A community shares ideas, collaborates more closely, and endures hardships. It knows sacrifice for the greater good. It is rooted in purpose. Its members understand what the organization wants to achieve and they are committed to working toward the vision, accomplishing the mission, and embodying the values they espouse. Organizations are administrative. They are formed to do something. They are artificial constructs. At the same time, because they are human creations, they can be made better. They can become communities where people feel they belong and can contribute to something greater than themselves.
Enabling Grace: Grace facilitates our connections to one another. Grace complements psychological safety. When people feel safe, they can speak their minds, share their thoughts, and work cooperatively and collectively. Psychological safety encourages collaboration. With grace, we do the following:
- Put others first.
- Listen before speaking.
- Look for problems to solve.
- Encourage people to speak out.
- Instill hope in the face of adversity.
- Drive out fear.
- Act with courage.
How Leaders Inspire During a Crisis
We look to our leaders for inspiration. Always in times of trouble, we look to those in authority to provide direction. The challenge for leaders in such times is to project a sense of self-control in the face of the uncontrollable and calmness in the face of anger and rage.
One example of a leader who exemplified what it takes to inspire others in a time of crisis is President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin had been threatening to invade Ukraine since Russia took over Crimea in 2014. Zelensky, a former comedian and actor, was elected president in 2018 after his predecessor, essentially a puppet of Russia, was overthrown. The shadow of Russian aggression hung over his leadership, but he did not flinch.
President Zelensky, whose most famous acting role was that of a schoolteacher who becomes president, has risen to Churchillian heights. Throughout the invasion, he remained in Kyiv and spoke to his fellow citizens daily. And like Winston Churchill, he has appealed to the outside world for help and enlisted their aid in defense of his nation. Throughout the crisis, Zelensky assumed the role of a leader through his presence. It seemed the “role of a lifetime.” Zelensky fit the part, not through artifice, but through his commitment to remain in Kyiv. Specifically, he did the following:
Project concern: Russia has much more weaponry and troops than Ukraine. Prior to the February invasion, Zelensky let his country and the West know the severity of the situation. However, he did not tone down in his rhetoric. He hoped for and spoke about avoiding conflict till the actual assault began. In fact, he was critical of the United States intelligence bulletins that predicted war. He was concerned about the economic consequences about possible war
Listen fiercely: Zelensky knew the courage of his people. They were not about to bow to Russian aggression without a fight. Zelensky listened to their hearts, which were reflected in his words and actions.
Project courage: Zelensky rallied his people against the Russian invasion of his country. Zelensky posted videos of himself remaining in Kyiv and standing with his people. We also saw videos of him meeting and mingling with his troops. Despite being the number one target of the Russians, Zelensky stayed in Kyiv during the assault on the city, regularly giving updates on the siege and vowing to remain in the city. “The fighting continues in many cities and districts of our state, but we know that we are protecting the country, the land, the future of children.”
Praise your people: Zelensky embraced the role of his countrymen. He praised their courage. “We won’t put down our weapons,” Zelensky said. “We will protect our country because our weapon is our truth and it is our land, our country, our children and we will defend all of it.”
Not every leader — including those cited above — gets it right every time, but good leaders keep focused on bringing people together for a common cause. “We must always take sides,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Leaders inspire others to take action because it is the right thing to do. This righteousness emerges from the shared values integral to the vision and mission of the organization.
*excerpted from “Grace Under Pressure: Leading Through Change and Crisis” by John Baldoni
John Baldoni is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker and author of 16 books that have been translated into ten languages. John established a career as a highly sought after executive coach, where he has had the privilege of working with senior leaders in virtually every industry. John is the author and host of two online leadership courses: “Leading through Change & Crisis” and “Leading with Resilience + Grace” for Methods of Leaders/100 Coaches.