The Delicate Balance Between Grace and Accountability

  1. Introduction
  2. The Delicate Balance Between Grace and Accountability
  3. The Delicate Balance Between Transparency and Confidentiality
  4. The Delicate Balance Between Likeability and Friendship

grace [ɡrās] NOUN: Undeserved favor

I’ve been granted a lot of grace in my life – both in personal situations and in more than a few career situations. I once hired the wrong guy!  He had the same name as the guy I intended to hire, somewhere wires got crossed and I hired a man who was about to get fired instead of the man who was an expert in his field.  These things happen  (though thankfully, not very often). I was fortunate to be granted grace for that one.

Sometimes, however, we grant too much grace. Whether because we like someone, to avoid a difficult conversation, or simply because they really need the job, we can overlook the failings or shortcomings of our employees. Everyone deserves a second chance, so they deserve the opportunity to make amends for the occasional mistake.  That’s grace.

Where we fall short in our leadership responsibilities is when we grant grace to avoid a real problem.

  • If we have an employee who’s not cutting it, they need development, perhaps through more training or oversight.
  • If there’s a mismatch of talent, a chronic performance problem, negligence, a bad attitude or ethical issues, then they need accountability.

Sometimes a tough conversation is necessary.  It may start with a performance improvement plan, putting the employee on notice, or even a dismissal.  What we can’t do as leaders is avoid, transfer or hand the problem off to someone else to manage.  It’s our responsibility to manage our employees.

To successfully have tough conversations and provide accountability, we need to have compassion and clarity.

  • Compassion shows that we’re talking about the behavior, not devaluing the person. The issue is timeliness, tardiness, thoroughness, or skills, not character.  The person is still a valuable, resourceful human being and should be treated with respect.
  • Be clear.  Be direct. Be concise. Give specific examples.  Don’t mince words. Don’t talk indirectly.    Don’t be vague and above all, don’t leave them guessing what that conversation was about. You can be respectful and still be clear in your message.

Long ago I took over a new department.  My boss told me to make sure that “John” (not his real name) was planning to leave the company.  My boss said that they’d had the performance conversation and he’d told John he wasn’t performing, it wasn’t a fit and that he had three months to leave.

Hmmmm…I thought.  I had a gut feeling that John didn’t see it that way.  I took John to lunch and explored with him what he felt he had received as a performance discussion.  He thought the message was that he had some areas to improve, but overall it was ok.

That confirmed my thoughts. John had no idea he was supposed to leave.  So guess who had to tell him.  Well, I did.  And I told him with compassion and clarity such that he knew what he needed to do.  He began looking for other jobs and in a short period of time he had found another job at a company where he fit in much better and his job was more aligned with his skills.  He went on to be quite successful in that company.

As a leader, there is a time for grace and a time for accountability.

When we hold people accountable, with compassion and clarity, we give them the opportunity to  rise to their full potential.

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Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide one-on-one executive coaching, seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling professional lives. Visit our website for upcoming programs, articles, and resources to advance your career.


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