Courageous Grace: A New Kind of Accountability

A certain workplace scenario has played out more times than we can count. And it goes something like this:

Local and Vocal

Frazzled executive or burnt out leader calls in consultants to deal with “disengagement” or “low morale”. Said leader describes disaffection in a specific team or cohort, vague yet ominous, a series of interventions that have failed to fix it, a plan they’re afraid to hatch. There’s usually talk of team building.

We come in, hold individual interviews, a few focus groups, and fairly quickly realize it’s not a problem, it’s a person. (Or maybe two people, because who doesn’t need a wing-woman.)  A person who’s been with the company for a while, seen executives come and go. A person’s who’s got history, who’s gotten hurt. A person who presents a totally localized yet highly vocalized “problem” that sucks the life out of teams, stalls progress, and stops everyone in adjoining cubicles from bringing or being their best.

We all know them. Those toxic teammates who:

  • smile little
  • complain often
  • hold grudges
  • tell scandalous stories
  • sit with crossed arms

Permanently aggrieved people who are

  • focused on problems rather than solutions
  • skeptical of solutions that do get suggested
  • suspicious of motives
  • slow to implement agreed upon changes

People who us hold us hostage to history.

People who seem to “diss” grace.

With no time for kindness and little interest in care, toxic teammates decide endings before anything’s begun, write scripts before conversations have even started. Short of everyday generosity, these colleagues are also short on imagination, relying on the past to tell their story. They make themselves the workplace DNA, keeping alive past grievances, prying open ancient wounds.

There’s power in this role. If you allow it to take hold.

But the gracious leader doesn’t.

Grace as Courage

Grace isn’t unwarranted gentility, a repressed dance from an episode of Downton Abbey.

Grace is honor; its courage. It’s a willingness to stand up for what’s important and speak up for those who’ve been silenced by circumstance.

Grace is about not looking away or lowering our collective bar, because it’s somehow easier to do so.

And, yes, the hardest time to be graceful is in the face of conflict or challenge. But if you commit yourself to NOT allowing problems to fester, to NOT letting toxic individuals destroy an otherwise productive team, you’ll earn the gratitude of everyone around you.

So show your grace under fire by:

  • Being honest: Sometimes radically so. Individuals might need feedback, maybe even corrective action. The rest of the team needs to hear you voice the truth that’s been living under everyone’s surface. Honesty can be painful, but no more so than everyday lies.
  • Being determined: Don’t think one conversation will do, or one after-work social will heal. A course of action is usually required—plot it out and follow it through. There’s reassurance in being thorough.
  • Being clear: Don’t generalize when you can be specific; don’t soft peddle solutions when something more radical is required. Clear, consistent communication is a hallmark of a gracious leader under pressure.
  • Being bold: By doing what’s required to not just correct a situation, but restore a sense of possibility. Commit yourself to the collective wellness of your team and be bold enough to act quickly, firmly, and creatively to enable that team to shine.

Grace is a critical everyday commodity. But it’s golden in the face of disgrace: of people who make negativity their currency. There’s a kindness in facing down challenges, a care in looking after the collective. With grace as your compass, you can set your eyes firmly on the future.


–Written by Jillian Reilly