Grace. It seems we’ve taken the marrow out of the word. We’ve Americanized it to mean that we can do anything we darn well please, invoke the grace card, and smile our way through our transgressions.
Why is it that we applaud Jesus offering grace to folks, but we miss how He threw a holy-hissy-fit in the temple, turning over tables? That’s not gracious—certainly not conciliatory. What kind of tyrannical boss would do that?
But what if grace is invoked to such an extent that innocents in the workplace (or even customers) are harmed? What if we extend so much grace to co-workers that they’re enabled to keep offending? Is that grace?
Once I poured my heart out to someone in leadership about an abusive tendency I saw in a coworker. My hope in doing so was to find some help for this person, but mostly, to be honest. I wanted to see the person removed from the situation so others wouldn’t be harmed.
The response from the leader? “This is part of the work, walking alongside them. Don’t give up.” In other words, offer “grace” and don’t confront. Let it keep happening to keep the peace.
I still get a stomachache thinking about that advice. Part of the work is to tolerate abusive co-workers? What about calling someone out on poor behavior? What kind of “grace” allows this behavior?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it cheap grace:
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves . . . the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”
As leaders, we are entrusted with people’s lives. We influence them by our example and our behavior. What does it say about us if we prefer our own likability to doing what is right? Why do we tend to gloss over deficiencies in someone’s behavior without pointing out what is offensive?
When we operate with cheap grace, it has five leadership consequences:
- We send the message that getting a task done is more important than integrity.
- We provide an unsafe or hostile work environment to those who are directly affected by the offender.
- We show our weakness and inability to confront, diminishing our credibility.
- We jeopardize morale.
- We give permission for others to be lax in workplace standards.
When we exercise costly grace, it also has five leadership consequences:
- People know exactly where we stand.
- Those who are victimized feel safe and protected.
- While it may be chaotic and painful to confront a co-worker strategically (and kindly), in the long run, we eliminate heartache.
- Breaking the peace of the status quo of today is our investment in the future health of our organization.
- We can look ourself in the mirror.
Cheap grace—the kind that allows for bad behavior to flourish unnoticed—is more expensive than you might think. It costs you, your employees, and your relationships. May it be that we dare to lovingly confront, hoping for confession and reconciliation as we do so.