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Is Ungrace Limiting Your Growth

Posted by Scott Barron on Sep 22, 2015 12:57:46 PM
Scott Barron

Every school goes through rocky periods, where conflict causes hurt feelings, dissension, and division. In such difficult times, how can you minimize the emotional and cultural damage in order to sustain your noble mission? What is the best way to model the utmost in leadership? Is a pattern of "ungrace" limiting your growth potential?

Grace vs UngraceI recently had the privilege of attending a school's donor cultivation dinner where past leaders were invited to participate along with current donors to the program. They were celebrating the accomplishments from the last annual fund campaign and presenting the vision for this year.

In advance of this special evening, the chair of the board reached out to each previous chief administrator of the school to personally ask them to join the evening festivities. Due to scheduling conflicts, most of the previous leaders were unable to attend, but the tone of inclusion and celebration of past contributions made an impact nonetheless.

The program celebrated the major milestones throughout the school's history, and recognized the contributions of each administrator. What did this model for the parents, faculty, and other donors who were present? It established an attitude of gratitude that is a good idea at any time, but especially at a donor connect event like this. Later, a few parents and students shared their own personal testimonies of how the school changed their lives, moving many to tears as they empathized with the stories.

What stood out for me was that this school has chosen grace over ungrace.


Ungrace is a term I learned from Philip Yancey. Think of it as the absence of grace, where grace may be defined as forgiveness for what may seem unforgiveable and certainly undeserved. Ungrace is an attitude and a set of collective action that is pervasive and is magnified through the speed and callousness of social media. It impedes healthy relationships, and is fertile ground for conflict. Forgiveness to me means not seeing the person(s) through the lens of past sins and damaging behavior--something that the infinite memory of the Internet now makes even more difficult.

The benefits of grace are so powerful for your leadership and your students. Grace frees the heart to experience joy. It frees the mind for greater purpose and discovery. It frees the emotions to truly enjoy others and life. Grace gives energy, perspective, health, and hope. It also is the key ingredient for you to achieve unity in your mission to serve students and their families.

Root of Bitterness

At School Growth we have the privilege of working with hundreds of schools, other non-profit organizations, and business leaders each year. When you walk into a building that is plagued by ungrace, you can literally feel the root of bitterness that has infested the culture. Gossip and dissension abound, with the lack of trust causing uncertainty, lower employee engagement, and high turnover. The negative impact of ungrace on enrollment and fundraising for the school is inevitable.

About a decade ago the leadership of the school that I mentioned in the beginning suffered under such difficult conditions. They had allowed ungrace to dominate and the consequences for the faculty, staff, and students were unfortunate and long-term. But they made a decision to change--they consciously determined to commit to unity, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Not everyone felt the same grace, however. One thing I've learned repeatedly is that grace is in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, offering what is intended to be a graceful response doesn't mean it will always be received/perceived that way by the intended person(s). Some feel compelled to hang on to that bitterness that limits relationships and stunts emotional intelligence. They just can't get over it. It's a sad reality.

Graceful Leadership

As a school leader, however, you have the chance to influence your culture through a renewed commitment to heal past pains through forgiveness and intentional relationship building. Graceful leadership involves helping your board, employees, and families move beyond whatever historical difficulties have been experienced to claim the possibilities of the present and future. Such an individual and corporate attitude will enable you to establish an environment in which everyone can thrive. Quit living in the past--let it go and move on. It's much easier to forgive when you remember how much you have been (or need to be) forgiven.

Topics: School Culture, Leadership

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