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The Power of the 5 Graces of Life and Leadership

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 By Kevin Stallmo

In 2022, after a long two years of adjusting to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, I discovered a book entitled "The 5 Graces of Life and Leadership" by Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, the leading executive recruiting and leadership training company on the planet in my opinion.

As Sales Director at AmSty, and a voracious reader, I've been following blogs from Gary over the past few years and have found his reflection on leadership to be profound and inspiring.

His book captures what I believe are the keys to effective leadership at work and in our personal lives.

First, I love the word grace. Its literal meaning is "help from God, favor, charm, thanks, pleasing, thankful, gracious." Gary effectively uses the word GRACE as an acronym for his five keys for life and leadership.

So, let's dive in and highlight why each area of GRACE is impactfuland it starts with Gratitude.

G = Gratitude: An attitude that lifts our hearts and elevates our spirits

Being grateful is focusing on the good things happening around us, and to us and others. It's also about appreciating things as they are – finding silver linings. In other words, taking things "as granted" vs "for granted."

Gratitude is powerful! By simply writing down five things we're grateful for once a week, science says we are 25% happier with our lives.

During the COVID-19 shutdown we implemented Gratitude Friday in our weekly AmSty commercial call, spending a few minutes before the start of the meeting reflecting on the things we are grateful for that week. We have even asked the group, on occasion, to take a minute and text someone to express their gratitude.

It's always heartwarming and impactful to see the response that comes back. I suggest you try it sometime to spread this happiness enhancer. It's also amazing to see how the positivity of Gratitude Friday flows into the entire team. As Gary says, "Our gratitude is indeed our team's attitude. Believe it. Say it. Mean it. Act it."

R = Resilience: What Makes the Impossible Possible

Being resilient starts with failure and improves with action. So why do we try to avoid failure? It's called fear. To gain resilience we must embrace fear and move through it using one of the cardinal virtues called courage.

How is this related to leadership? To move our teams through "fear doors" we must practice our courage muscle. We practice this by seeing the obstacles (fear) we face as "the way" to the solutions, and the best way to do that is through action.

Gary indicates that action creates momentum, momentum creates confidence (which means intense trust) and that builds a very strong team that is resilient and produces results.

As Ryan Holiday emphasizes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, not any action will do.

"It must be directed action. Step by step this directed action dismantles the obstacles in front of us. This action requires courage, not brashnesscreative application not brute force," he said.

As we practice this process, we find our resilience improving along with our confidence. At the beginning of 2020 we introduced this book to our commercial team. The ironic thing about the timing of the book introduction is that over the next two years our team would face more obstacles in our business than we have experienced in a lifetime. The mindset this created around action was key to the amazing results the business achieved during that time frame. Thanks to the insights from both Ryan and Gary, I can say we are now a very resilient team!

A = Aspiration: Knowing we can make tomorrow different and better than today

As Gary says, "Hope. Desire. Longing. Yearning. Wish. Aim. Each of these terms define aspiration, yet it is larger than all of them. Aspiration is not just a momentary want. It is a visiona goal. It's more than what we want to achieve. It embodies what we want to becomeour identity."

He emphasizes that as leaders we need to use aspiration as the glue that binds our teams together, and it starts with our ABCs: Accountability, that we must be accountable to our behaviors before others follow us; Belief, that we can make a difference; and Capability, which includes actions like listening, connecting, inspiring, giving and constantly looking for opportunities to learn.

To help us better define how our aspirations can be guided, we have exposed our commercial team to a tool called WOOP, which stands for Wish (aspiration), Outcome (what we want to achieve), Obstacle (what is in the way of the outcome), Plan (what are we going to do to address the obstacles to achieving our outcome).

This process was developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, who says it's not about the positive vision we have of an outcome we want, but identifying the obstacles we need to overcome and making plans to address them.

C = Courage: Not having "no fear," but rather to "know fear" and move beyond it

It's said that studies show people fear public speaking over death, which means at a funeral you'd rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!

We all experience fear in different ways, but that doesn't mean we can't demonstrate courage at the same time.

"Courage is not 'no fear' but rather to 'know fear,'" a powerful insight from Gary. "It's not that we will have no fear in any challenge we face but to be able to have courage to act in the face of fear is key."

Courage is also about getting out of our comfort zones. To grow as an individual and as a team we must get uncomfortable. It takes courage and confidence to rest in this feeling. Our ultimate potential lies just outside that comfort zonelet's embrace it!

As we practice embracing being uncomfortable, we settle into what I like to call "calm confidence." The Greeks have a word for this: euthymia. As a leader, who do we believe in and trust in a difficult situation?It's the person who can act with euthymia; the mindset we need to have under any difficult, scary and uncomfortable circumstance.

E = Empathy: Meeting others where they are to understand who they are

"Empathy is meeting others where they are – to understand who they are. It takes empathy, the cornerstone of radically human leadership, to connect genuinely with others as we all journey together leaving the familiar for the unknown."

This is one of the most profound comments by Gary. Since this book was written after the pandemic, I get the sense he took a deeper look at the impacts within his organization and was making empathy a much larger focus of his leadership.

He goes on to say there are three types of empathy leaders must develop:

  1. Cognitive: This allows us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes while maintaining a healthy detachment.
  2. Sympathy: The emotional empathy that allows us to feel another's pain like it's our own.
  3. Compassion: The action of empathy that gives us the ability to connect with others in their pain and act in a compelling way to communicate feelings of warmth, reward and affiliation.

Gary goes on to say, "From empathy comes action and attitudes around inclusion, which in turn forms the culture in your environment at work and at home. The first step is self-awareness on how inclusive we are."

Here are a few questions he recommends we ask ourselves:

How does your unconscious bias influence your behavior?

When making decisions, how often do you take the initiative to seek out different points of view?

Do you catch yourself in moments when you make assumptions about others?

Do you actually listen in all conversations, no matter who is speaking?

In times of change, do you show greater interest in your difficulty or the difficulty of others?

As Gary points out, "Inclusion fuels passion. When people feel seen and heard it becomes a powerful intrinsic motivator. It taps people's deep seated desire to know that they belong and make a difference and are part of something bigger than themselves."

Those are the five powerful graces of life and leadership that when implemented can result in meaningful shifts. It's a profound book that has inspired me to become a better leader at home, at work and in the community. What ideas jumped out at you? What are you going to do today to become a better version of yourself, to become a better leader and human being? We are all leaders and need this GRACE to be our best selves.

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