Last week my family and I had to let go of Gracie, our 8.5-year-old golden retriever. Her life was short but full. What was so special about Gracie was that she gave as much or more than she received. We have had many wonderful dogs, each with great personalities, but there was something very special about Gracie that touched all of us, and hundreds (no exaggeration) of other people and animals. In many ways, Gracie demonstrated for all of us, a set of behaviors that reflect her name; grace.
Grace infers charm, kindness, refinement, decency, honor, mercy – all words that speak to Gracie’s character and words we generally want to experience in the people who surround us, including people who lead us. Grace however is not a word commonly used in discussions about leadership. In the many competency models that I have developed, never has it arisen as a competency or trait of leaders, and yet I think that it might be one of the most important characteristics for leaders to develop and exhibit.
For the last 4 years Gracie was an urban dog living with my wife and I in the inner city of Cincinnati, an area that is only recently being developed. Our neighborhood has retained a high level of diversity among its residents and visitors, making it a dynamic and at times unpredictable community. It is in this setting that Gracie’s character really stood out. Her daily walks presented opportunities for her to make connections with people and other dogs. She genuinely loved engaging with others, and naturally enjoyed attention she received in return. Gracie seemed to have a purpose:. She was completely approachable to children who were afraid or lacked experience with dogs; she brought a smile and a few moments of joy to a homeless person who is often ignored; she provided young adults enjoying the night out with a reminder of their family dogs who they rarely get to see; she calmed other dogs through her willingness to take whatever they dished out; she provided my wife with a walking companion even though her walks were often interrupted by people who wanted a moment of Grace; and she was my companion on walks and made my experience of our community a joy.
Gracie made our community a better place by always being approachable to anyone; by always smiling and saying hello in her special way; by giving as much or more than she received; by enabling conversations among people at every corner; and by being extraordinarily patient with everyone. Consider these attributes for a moment and the extent to which you exhibit these behaviors as a leader or experience them in your leader.
- Approachable and safe
- Exhibiting joy and happiness
- Giving more than getting
- Enabling conversations by bringing people (and pets) together
- Being patient, serene, and respectful
Taken independently or together, the presence of these characteristics can create an environment in which people are:
- More transparent and open with their ideas and opinions
- Focused more on what is right than on what is wrong
- Confident and secure in their position
- Feeling supported rather than controlled
- In the middle of important conversations where they add value
If you are a leader who chooses to have an organization or community culture in which people are engaged and committed, then make “grace” a part of your life and enjoy the community that will emerge.
In our neighborhood, it is kind of a joke that we all know the names of the dogs but rarely know the names of their owners. A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. While waiting for a table I had a short conversation with the hostess. In the middle of the conversation she suddenly asked me if I was “Gracie’s Dad”. I proudly said yes and she told me she knew Gracie from Liberty’s, a dog friendly bar we walk past regularly. If the door is open at Liberty’s, Gracie usually strides right in and at the right time of day, when Gracie enters, everybody knows her name.
I am personally motivated by Gracie to ensure that I lead with grace and that I help others do the same.
Gracie, you will be missed by many but you will never be forgotten.