Taking Shame Out of Leadership

Grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose instead of serving shame. ~Unknown

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

What is grace? I chose to define leadership as “bold grace” because the word grace can take on a number of different meanings.


For example, in many religions, grace is defined as the divine influence which operates in humans to:

  • regenerate and sanctify,
  • inspire virtuous impulses, and
  • impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation.

I modified that slightly for leadership. Bold grace defined as a leader’s influence to:

  • revive and support,
  • inspire honest characteristics, and
  • convey strength to withstand challenges and resist what’s easy or self-centered over what’s right.

Looking to the Oxford Dictionary, synonyms for grace include: courteous goodwill, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, dignity, distinguish, honor, and agility.

Not long ago I read that in one of Warren Bennis’ last interviews (known as a pioneer of leadership studies) he was asked if he had another book in him. He said that he was thinking about the idea of grace as it applied to leadership. The four key components of grace for Bennis were: generosity, respect, redemption, and sacrifices. That’s all we know; it’s a book Bennis never had the opportunity to write.

Philip Yancey author of best-selling What’s So Amazing About Grace was asked in an interview how he would define grace. His response: “I don’t even try. I remember once getting stuck in Los Angeles traffic and arriving 58 minutes late at the Hertz rental desk. I walked up in kind of a bad mood, put the keys down and said, ‘How much do I owe?’ The woman says, ‘Nothing. You’re all clear.’ I said I was late and she smiled, ‘Yes, but there’s a one-hour grace period.’ So I asked, ‘Oh really, what is grace?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know. [They must not cover that in Hertz training classes.] I guess what it means is that even though you’re supposed to pay, you don’t have to. That’s a good start to a definition.”


Yancey also distinguished between kindness and grace. He said, “Kindness can be given in a patronizing, paternalistic way. We can be kind to a homeless person, or even an animal, as an act of charity. Grace is different. It elevates the one you are showing grace toward.”

Grace. It’s certainly an intriguing way to think about leadership. It’s very other-focused: elevating, honoring, supporting, respecting, being generous, forgiving, extending compassion.

Inward Harmony

Going back a few centuries, William Hazlitt said, “Grace has been defined as the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.” While grace is other-focused, the ability for leaders to replace shame with grace begins internally—the inward harmony of the soul. Leading with bold grace.

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