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Making Space for Grace

By Kiahnna D. Patton

Kiahnna D. PattonOver the past year, we have forgiven the guest appearances of pets, children and significant others who pop up in the background during those now routine and essential virtual meetings. This sort of forgiveness was quite a bit less common before March 2020, when the world as we knew it changed.

Today we have a window into the worlds of our colleagues and other business associates from whom we previously would have seen only a lovely family picture on their desk. We notice what their kitchens look like, the art and foliage they use to decorate, the lighting that peeks out from carefully chosen drapes. We may even inadvertently see what they’ve done with the bathroom. For those who want an extra layer of privacy, we see them sitting in creative virtual backgrounds displaying the million-dollar home they wish they owned, we see the sunny vacation spot from where they’d like to be taking our call or the viral photo of a well-known politician bundled up on a cold winter day. Beyond this, we have also learned what I call “Pandemic Grace.” Let’s consider how we normalize 1) the extension of kindness and flexibility to our colleagues and 2) avoid allowing mistakes to derail and destroy careers.

What is the focus?

The focus of this column are the general extensions of grace we can give to one another versus acts that are socially, and maybe even legally and morally, regarded as reprehensible. Also, we will not explore the broader topic of to whom our society typically grants grace because that is a much greater conversation that deserves its own platform. Perhaps one day I’ll explore that.

What is grace?

Recently I wrote about TRICK, the method introduced by Esther Wojcicki to help us show up in the world as our best selves. The acronym represents Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness; the five fundamental values that help us become successful people. I’m going to hone in on the concept of kindness as it relates to grace. As a reminder, with kindness, we assume good intentions. And grace requires that we grant courteous goodwill.

I can’t say what grace and kindness are without saying what they are not. In short, they are not about giving people carte blanche for bad behavior. They are also not about simply being nice to people.

How can the lack of grace derail a person’s career?

Organizations with cultures that support long memories can be great for institutional knowledge retention but can backfire when some won’t allow others to grow and change. Consider how the lack of grace can block opportunities and derail what might have been a more successful career with an upward trajectory. What would happen if we shorten those memories? What if a 10-year-old mistake wasn’t incessantly used to demonstrate why a person cannot take on an important assignment? What if that mistake was not rehashed, and the person was allowed to live in a reality that granted them grace and allowed them to rebuild the confidence to be great? Self-efficacy matters! What if we threw out our judgments and cheered for that person? What would that say about who we are, and how might that impact how the other person shows up, is seen and sees themself?

Make Space for Grace

What does grace look like in the workplace?

Imagine how much more your team could accomplish if individuals granted grace to one another, let go of the past and demonstrated confidence in one another. J. Richard Hackman, an organizational behavioral pioneer and expert in team dynamics, says that teams need a compelling direction, a strong structure and a supportive context. I propose that the supportive context is not limited to tangible resources, but extends to intangibles, like grace. I’ve seen quite a few companies be super proud of having a “no jerk” policy. Lisa Nichols and the law of attraction as explained in “The Secret,” suggest our brains miss the “no,” and the next thing you know your organization is running rampant with jerks. Jerks are the antithesis of gracious. I suggest having a kindness policy instead. And I believe there are companies where that idea is fully embraced. This is what it looks like:

At Executive on the Go (EOG), owner Angele Cade and her partner, Brandon, have a staff of employees on whom they place immeasurable value. She says, “We believe that if we support them in their goals, they will support us in ours.” For example, EOG (www.execonthego.com) allowed remote work before it was popular, and they created policies that included schedule flexibility. For one employee, that policy change made it easier for her to address personal struggles while still meeting work expectations. And because Cade showed kindness to the employee during a tough season of her life, she was a dedicated employee who willingly raises her hand to give extra help. A personal experience moved Cade to grant this type of grace. During a particularly devastating time in her life, the lack of support she received from “the place I dedicated my life and my best working hours of the day to was gut-wrenching. I looked at my own experience and allowed that to navigate how I would want to be treated, and it led me to create an environment and culture that is supportive.”

Beyond Pandemic Grace

Let’s expand our use of kindness beyond granting “Pandemic Grace” to one another. Try it (with authenticity) and see what a positive difference it makes. As my coach says, “I 100 percent guarantee you’ll be successful” when you use kindness and grace to build employees and your business. Think about moments in your life when a little grace would’ve gone a long way, and give to others what you were, or wish you were, given.

Kiahnna D. Patton is senior human resources business partner at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and a nonprofit founder.

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