Non-Profit Leadership: How to Give Sociological Grace in Leadership

Group of successful happy multiethnic business people working as a team in office on meeting.

I was at a leadership seminar many years ago where the presenters offered the idea of incorporating sociological grace within organizations. I was familiar with the concept of how God is so gracious to us as people, but I had never considered that as a potential for a leadership model that could be a vital part of an organizational culture.

In our work at Lakeside, we are all about providing second chances to our students. If they fail, create havoc or act out we use that as an opportunity to bring resources to their lives so that they can learn from the consequences of their behavior and have new options to make changes in their lives. Rather than be punitive as most systems are, we try to use those opportunities to create second chances. It is not at all that we take away their responsibility. Rather we provide opportunities for them to have a do-over of these aspects of their lives, allowing them to experience a different way to manage their stress or adversity.

The beauty of sociological grace is that it is totally unique to their world. They are used to shame, blame, punishment, judgement and an approach that “gives them what they deserve!”

So when we give them opportunities that they do not deserve in order to help them cope, change and make other choices, they are shocked! If they make better choices, they learn through that process that they have new possibilities for their life outcomes. In other words, they get the opportunity to learn from their consequences.

If we think about our staff in the same way, they too can make bad choices, create chaos, make mistakes and often find themselves in a state of deficit. Some organizational leaders believe that they best way to deal with these behaviors is to hold people accountable through some form of punishment or penalty. While I believe that everyone is responsible for their own actions and for the consequences of that behavior, I also know that leaders who believe in second chances have unique opportunities to teach their staff that they can have different outcomes to change and grow than they have ever had.

Group of business people congratulate their young female colleague on successful presentation in a pleasant atmosphere at workplace. Business, office, job

I have always believed that what we do for our students we also should do for our staff. It is just congruent with our values and should be evident throughout our organization. It is not that we should be permissive. Rather we should have the mindfulness and compassion to recognize that individuals do crooked things for a reason usually coming from some set of values or an event in their lives that normalizes that kind of behavior.

I have had the opportunity to work through situations like this privately with staff members. During those difficult conversations, most have been shocked by what I did not do. They were expecting discipline of some kind when instead we had a discovery process that lead to why they think they acted as they did. It usually ends up in a healthy conversation where we can talk about making amends and getting them help to overcome whatever life obstacles may have been part of their rationale for that particular offense.

This is where grace becomes powerful. When we give individuals what they don’t deserve it creates a completely different environment for discussion, growth and change. I find that sociological grace quickly becomes contagious. It creates an exceptional environment where there is both accountability and understanding. That kind of environment allows our staff a great deal of safety and brings a new level of tolerance for each other. 

Leaders who model this kind of grace are perceived as individuals who care, who have integrity and who can be trusted. Leadership grace creates environments that are sincere, forgiving and unique among organizations. All of us are fallible and when we discover that in someone else, giving them grace is transformational. This can lead to significant life and legacy impact to those we lead. I have found sociological grace to be rewarding, impactful and humbling as we help those in our care to overcome significant life obstacles.

Gerry Vassar


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