I wrote about the Marine Corps leadership traits several years ago and one missing trait from that list of 14 — humility. “It’s hard to be humble when you’re a U.S. Marine” some of you may remember the old USMC bumper sticker reading.
Humility — acknowledging one’s own flaws as no better and oftentimes worse than everyone else’s — is hard to find today with everybody attempting to best and find fault with everybody else. But in my travels in life and development as a leader, I’ve found another, equally important, leadership trait missing from many lists of good leadership qualities: grace.
Like humility, grace is rarely, if ever, talked about by tough CEOs and hard scrabble military leaders. Accountability, yes. Grace, no.
At a non-attribution leadership forum, one CEO said that grace is about acceptance, the opposite of judgment. It is the building block of a culture that nurtures innovation, invention, risk taking and forgiveness for mistakes. “It is ironically the same word we use for elegance with a sense of purity,” he explained.
Acceptance. Forgiveness. Purity. Today’s caustic political and “if it ain’t broke, break it” cultural environment would seem to have left these ideals far behind. Maybe it’s partly because these lofty principles have a religious edge to them and religion has no place, according to many people, in public policy.
Ah, but while they may not have a place in the public domain, these moral standards have a vital place in a leader’s repertoire, really any person’s inventory of traits to be nurtured and grown. These ideals have the power to change lives for the better.
Nonetheless, grace is hard to find in many leadership circles or in our society at large. Perhaps the following extreme examples of grace can help others find it in their hearts to also forgive and thereby change their, and other’s, lives.
In St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City 37 years ago (May 13, 1981), Pope John Paul II was shot and severely wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca. Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to “pray for my brother (Ağca) … whom I have sincerely forgiven.” Ağca was quoted as saying, “… to me (the Pope) was the incarnation of all that is capitalism.” Although he attempted to murder him, through the Pope’s grace Ağca ultimately formed a friendship with the pontiff.
According the Times of Israel (https://www.timesofisrael.com/holocaust-survivor-preaches-forgiveness-of-nazis-as-ultimate-revenge/) and National Public Radio, “One of approximately 1,500 pairs of twins singled out by the ‘Angel of Death’, Josef Mengele, at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, Eva (Kor) and her identical twin sister Miriam survived eight months of experiments performed at hands of their Nazi ‘doctors’.” Still, Eva forgives the Nazis for her torment. Even though reviled by many of her fellow Jews as forgiving the unforgivable, she holds the line. “My forgiveness … is my act of self-healing, self-liberation and self-empowerment” she says.
While we’ve unfortunately become numb to school shootings in America, one such tragedy should be remembered if for no other reason than the grace shown by the victims. On Oct. 2, 2006 in an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the community of Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV shot eight out of 10 girls (ages 6 to 13) he had taken hostage, killing five before taking his own life.
Displaying a heavenly kind of grace, the Amish community visited the widow of the murderer to offer condolences. They attended his funeral the same week they buried their children. And on the one-year anniversary of the shooting, according to NBC News (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/20761374/ns/us_news-giving/t/amish-donate-cash-school-gunmans-widow/#.WvmOZ8uWzcs), the Amish quietly made a cash donation to the widow of the same man who had lined up and executed their children.
As a leadership tool, grace is absent from the tool box of many leaders even though a military leader or CEO’s clemency for a minor error or a risk-taking mistake made in an honest attempt at improvement should be easy … even encouraged. Yet if Pope John Paul, Eva Kor, and the Amish can offer the kind of cleansing grace they were able to muster, shouldn’t we all be able to do the same in far less extreme circumstances?
Grace leads to elegant leadership, acceptance of each other’s faults, and a human purity of heart. Along with humility, we need more of it. Much more.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.