The Mindset of Bold Grace

You’re in charge of your mind. You can help it grow by using it in the right way. ~Carol Dweck

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m spending 2020 exploring leadership from the perspective of bold grace. This journey includes asking lots of questions. For example, is there a mindset that undergirds a leader with bold grace?

This question reminded me of a conversation with a group of leaders last year. I was working with a client to create a shared understanding and define behavioral expectations for employees. Included in one of the definitions was to ask questions and to “be curious.” One of the organization’s leaders pushed-back on the idea to “be curious.” He simply didn’t get it; it didn’t make any sense to him. Why would we want to encourage employees to be curious?

Mindset Shifts

I think that as leaders move up in organizations sometimes their mindset shifts, and it’s not necessarily for the better. Authors reference it differently but the concept is the same. Whether it’s Carol Dweck’s reference to a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset or if it’s Marilee Adams who calls it a judger mindset vs a learner mindset. A judger (fixed mindset) will defend their assumptions, be a bit of a “know-it-all” and their primary mood is to be protective. Contrast that with a learner (growth mindset). This is someone who values not-knowing, questions their assumptions, and their primary mood is to be curious.

Another aspect that contrasts the judgers from the learners is their response to feedback. Someone with a judger mindset perceives feedback as rejection. An individual with a learner mindset will perceive feedback as very worthwhile, maybe even a gift.

As I work with leaders at various levels throughout an organization, the individuals in roles that would be considered middle management tend to be far more open to feedback. To them it’s worthwhile because if they don’t grow and change, they will stay in middle management. However, when I work with top-level leaders they many times reject, and I would say fear, feedback. Because they have already achieved a top leadership position, in their minds feedback can only mean one thing—rejection or failure.

We equate continued growth (i.e., valuing not-knowing, questioning our own assumptions) with our assent up additional rungs on the career or leadership ladder. If there are no more rungs, then any need for change or growth is well, rejection. That’s a prime example of a judger or a fixed mindset.

The Virtue of Curiosity

Back to where I started. If we are not curious (a necessity for growth), or don’t even perceive curiosity as a positive virtue, then we certainly don’t want to hear feedback that might allow us to learn and grow. Being curious, asking for feedback, those are not signs of weak leadership. Just the opposite, they are symbols of bold grace.

If leaders want to use their mind in the right way, as Dweck suggests, then they may need to change the questions they are asking. For example, Adams in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, suggests some of those questions might be:

  • What do I want?
  • What are the facts?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What can I learn?

This week, think about what questions you are asking. What’s your mindset? Are you a judger or a learner?

2020: Lead with Bold Grace

Life [or leadership] is measured in love and positive contributions and moments of grace. ~Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard) *[insert] by Dr. Kathryn Scanland

I began an intense study of leadership in 2000 (the year I started my doctorate) and I haven’t stopped. Now that it’s been 20 years, I asked myself how I would describe effective leadership in just a couple of words. I struggled with winnowing it down for some time. Then at the end of 2019, I read an op-ed and the two words that immediately came to mind to describe what I had just read were: bold grace. At that moment, I realized those were the two words for which I had been searching. Twenty years of study summed up into bold grace.

What is bold grace?

Bold grace is a fusion of ideas: servant leadership, positive leadership, emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, change management, adaptive leadership, humble inquiry, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. As you can see, it will take a year to unpack, and then repack, all of these ideas into bold grace.

I will begin with you where I began the new year. Ann Voskamp wrote a book entitled One Thousand Gifts. This book has sold extremely well and recently I kept seeing it or hearing someone reference either the book or Ann. It seemed it was time for me to finally explore what the 1,000 gifts were all about.

Grace Moments

Ann was challenged by a friend to write a list of 1,000 things she was grateful for, or “grace moments.” The result of this exercise changed Ann’s outlook, on everything. I’ve started my own list of 1,000 grace moments, and it may take all of 2020 to reach 1,000 but I can already sense my altered perspective by deliberately influencing what gets my attention.

This practice of cataloging grace moments could have a marked influence on how leaders lead. Here’s what I mean. I think people in leadership positions many times believe they are helping others to grow and develop. What I see, looking in from the outside, is a leader trying to make others become a replica of themselves, as opposed to helping others grow to be their own best self. They are looking at others through a corrective lens instead of a strengths or gifts lens.

I would encourage leaders to take the 1,000 grace moments challenge and begin writing, as specifically as possible, the strengths and gifts they see in their employees and colleagues. If we begin to tenaciously focus our attention on the gifts and strengths of others, I have no doubt it will also change how we see them.

This is not about overlooking mistakes or avoiding constructive criticism. To the contrary. It’s about changing how we see others and consequently how we interact with others. It’s to refocus our attention on helping others grow into their best self, which might be very different from our own best self. Especially for people in leadership roles, I believe this is a very real challenge. At least that’s what I’ve seen, repeatedly. So it’s not easy. I think it takes a lot of—you guessed it—bold grace.

Leading with Courageous Empathy

Courageous empathy is communicating that incredibly healing message of, “You’re not alone.” ~Brene’ Brown

I try to avoid political topics when blogging about leadership. I’m going to make a slight exception today. There was one response, in particular, during the most recent Democratic Presidential Debate that caught my attention. It appears that I wasn’t the only one who took notice of this answer.

The last question of the debate posed by Anderson Cooper, I think, was intended to be a sort of trick question. One that the candidates very likely had not prepared for and one that could reveal more about their character and personal values than simply asking about personal values.

Cooper described how Ellen DeGeneres recently defended her friendship with George W. Bush and then asked the candidates to speak about a friendship that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on them and their beliefs.

Some responses were vague and overly generalized. Likely because they were either thrown off by the question or simply couldn’t think of a specific example.

An Empathetic Answer

Then there was Andrew Yang’s answer. He shared a detailed story about a specific voter he met while on the campaign trail named Fred. Fred was a trucker and an avid Trump supporter. Yang described how Fred let him ride in his truck for hours. How he learned that Fred had spent time in jail and shared his experiences trying to get other people off drugs. At the close of his story Yang revealed that Fred is now supporting his campaign – it was a presidential debate after all.

Yes, in the end, it was a political answer. However, what stood out to me was that Andrew Yang took the time, and patience, to listen first. He heard about the real life challenges that Fred faced. Yang spent hours listening. He practiced empathy. Using Cory Booker’s mantra, Yang practiced, “courageous empathy.” I call it courageous because Fred was very different from Yang, on many levels. This wasn’t a five-minute conversation while glad-handing in a cafe. He gave Fred the space to hold a view different from his own. It was time spent putting himself in someone else’s shoes.

Truth be told, I don’t think Yang has much of chance to be our next president. However, how he was able to answer that single question, stood out to me as a moment of leadership. Cory Booker defines courageous empathy as believing you are right but still working to understand the thoughts and feelings of those you disagree with.

Leading with Courageous Empathy

Courageous empathy may not be a platform that gets the next president elected, but it is absolutely worthy of consideration for effective leadership.

As I stated in my last post, “people are different, not less,” a concept that is easy to accept intellectually and surprisingly difficult to put into practice. Even for leaders, maybe especially for leaders.

Leaders practicing courageous empathy – a message of healing.

The Critical First Step to Build Effective Leadership Teams

I am different, not less. ~Dr. Temple Grandin

I frequently start training on building effective leadership teams with the trailer for the movie Temple Grandin. Temple, born in 1947, has autism. Temple faced a great deal of ridicule because we had little understanding of autism in the 1940s. Her mother’s mantra was, “Temple, you are different, not less,” which is repeated in the trailer. This phrase has also become a tagline for autism awareness. Why do I start building effective leadership teams training with this mantra?

I start with the mantra, people are different, not less because that concept is easy to accept intellectually and surprisingly difficult to put into practice.

I’ve interviewed a lot of leaders and leadership teams over the years. One thing I’ve noticed is that people consistently believe that others would be better leaders if they modeled behaviors that reflected their own preferences. Now, people don’t come right out and tell me, “Joe would be a better leader if he was more like me.” It’s far subtler.


I will listen to someone describe how “Joe” can improve his leadership and then I realize this person is describing their own strengths or natural tendencies. For example, I was recently working with a leader, “Joe,” who is very thoughtful, careful, and can quickly spot potential issues with any idea or suggestion. When I interviewed his colleague, “Sam,” he said “Joe” could improve his leadership by being more visionary, have more of a forward-looking perspective. That certainly could be true. However, “Sam” is also describing his own strengths. As you can imagine, when I then interview “Joe” about “Sam,” “Joe” now says that “Sam” would be a better leader if he wasn’t so impulsive and was more thoughtful and careful.

I’ve tried to think of a scenario I’ve encountered where this was not the case, and so far I can’t think of any examples.

What do leaders need to be more aware of?

  1. Leaders need to be more aware of their own biases. We are all biased toward our own behavioral style. Yes, you are. I see this all the time.
  2. In order to lead, effectively, leaders need to adapt or adjust their behavioral style to others.

People are different, not less. If we really practiced this, then why does nearly everyone I interview believe that their leader would be more effective if they demonstrated a behavioral style that is very similar to their own? Because we are biased!

The critical first step to building more effective leadership teams is to recognize and accept the fact that everyone on that team is different, and different doesn’t mean less.

Leaders and Suicide

What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation. ~Glenn Close

Leaders and suicide. You might be thinking, “wow, that’s an awfully dark topic,” and that’s the point. Just as Glenn Close stated, “mental health needs more unashamed conversation.” We need to take it out of the darkness and bring it into the light.

Maybe it’s just a part of growing older, but the number of people I have personally known who have ended their lives by suicide now requires two hands to count. And that’s too many. What has also struck me is that most of the people I have personally known, have been leaders.

Suicide Awareness

This topic has been especially highlighted for me because not only is September suicide awareness month, but the day before World Suicide Prevention Day two leaders ended their lives by suicide and I had connections to both. NBC News: Suicides by Two Mental Health Advocates Serve as Grim Reminder

It’s easy to see someone in a prominent leadership role and to assume that they have no personal challenges. Even more so, I think many leaders feel pressured to come across and act as if they have no challenges. Almost, as if they aren’t actually human. It’s only been in recent years in the study of leadership that vulnerability has been considered an attribute, as opposed to a detriment, of effective leadership.

But the vulnerability attached to admitting depression or suicidal thoughts still seems to haunt some leaders. Just because you are in a leadership role doesn’t mean you are immune from the mental health challenges associated with suicidal thoughts.

Here’s what a college president said after learning about one of the recent suicides I mentioned. “As I confront my own grief and bewilderment, I am also becoming more aware of what suicide does and does not mean, and how to respond. I am learning to avoid judgment and not to seek simplistic explanations… I am learning that it is important to talk openly about suicide.”

How do you talk openly about suicide, even with a leader?

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic recommends. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?

The Clinic goes on to say, “Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.”

Forbes contributor Naz Beheshti stated earlier this month, “In spite of increased awareness, suicide continues to be a major public health problem in the United States, and around the world. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., where the rate is higher than at any point since World War II. The majority of suicides in the U.S. are among working age adults. Working age suicides have increased 34% in the U.S. in the years 2000-2016, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

We all need to come out of the darkness, including leaders, maybe even especially leaders.  We need more unashamed conversation about suicide.

In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. There were twice as many suicides (47,173) in the U.S. as there were homicides (19,510).