Lead with Mercy

We’re so desperate to be understood, we forget to be understanding. ~ Beau Taplin

There are so many things in life, and leadership, that are much easier to say than do. Mercy is one of those. The definition of mercy that I’m thinking of includes synonyms like empathy, understanding, and forbearance (which means patience, self-control, restraint, and tolerance).

Now that we’re able to meet in person again, I worked with a leadership team last week to help them move towards alignment. Some had joined the team during the pandemic so this team had very little in-person face time. One of the activities we worked through was the DISC assessment. I’ve done this many times and what I witness continues to be quite similar from organization to organization.

I reveal the behavior styles of the members of the team, and in this case they were very diverse. This is good in terms of having the potential for the best team outcomes. However, it also presents a challenge because it means everyone will need to demonstrate some empathy and forbearance to truly understand one another. In other words, they need to give each a bit of mercy.

Then, for example, I will hear people say they are trying to be more patient with those who need far more detail and information than they do. And others will say they are trying to be more flexible for those who like to keep options open and not be tied to particularly specific plans.

As the outsider in the room, what I see is people’s intention to adapt to others, but actual behavior that still reflects their own preferences. And, I also see a smidgen of frustration because the “other” is not adapting as much as they would like. This is where we need more mercy.

Celebrate Differences

Adure Lorde said, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” And I think in order to do just that, we need to lead with mercy.

The challenge I see many leaders struggle with is the fact that they see their own view as obvious. They believe it’s so obvious that it baffles them that others don’t see it that way as well. Which then leads to impatience and frustration. Leaders forget, people aren’t necessarily “disagreeing” with the leader’s perspective, they just simply aren’t “understanding” it.

Lead with Mercy

This is not the first time I’ve written about the hard work of first seeking to understand if leaders truly want to be understood. In fact, as I’m writing this I feel somewhat like a broken record. But I’ll keep repeating this same chorus over and over because it seems to be one of the most difficult and most necessary aspects of effective leadership. Understanding doesn’t mean you have to “agree.” Understanding means you’ve truly listened. It means that you’re aware of others’ feelings and thinking. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their point of view, but it means that you’re willing to understand and appreciate it. Adapt your own behavior style and lead with mercy.

Grace and mercy are very close cousins. Showing mercy is an example of leading with bold grace.

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