One trademark sign of a Korean summer is the sight of people outdoors in hordes. Highways are clogged in weekends with families desperate for a brief respite by the sea. Tents come up near the coast and many beaches are dotted with colourful tents, especially where there is a patch of green. Those who prefer to remain in Seoul carve out their own slice of peace at the parks along the Han river. Tents and picnic baskets fill the lawns by the riverside, telling signs that Koreans know how to enjoy. With the harsh winter clearly behind, this is the chance for the young and old to get out of the usual. A summer evening by the riverside can be almost perfect, with a cool breeze every now and then soothing the senses.
I have been thinking about the quality of being gracious. It is a rare quality, often trumped by intelligence and success in a world that gives more value to the latter. Then again, being gracious is so necessary for true leadership that I hold in high esteem even more those who are able to balance their Alpha status with graciousness. Having worked in the government for almost five years and having had the privilege of working with colleagues across the country for programmes large and small, I can say that introspection is in order. I include myself, of course, because I have failed miserably too.
The higher civil service bestows a lot of responsibility and with it comes the privilege of working with different kinds of people from all over the country. The challenge and the beauty in India is the likelihood that a person from the far east could have a person from the far south as a colleague, someone with an entirely different make up. Like in any big organisation, one would be somewhere in the pecking order with plenty of subordinates to manage. The opportunity to truly be of service to another is immense. But fallen humans as we are, we resort to ordering people around and always expect to be served. That feudal mindset still casts a shadow.
True leadership also consists of backing your own staff and taking blows for their slip ups. That builds trust and respect, and most importantly, your staff begin to trust in your leadership. Compare that with someone who is always yelling and blaming others trying to get things done. That kind of behaviour never builds, it only crushes and exposes the shallowness in trying to cover one’s backside. And there’s no better litmus test than emergency situations.
Perhaps I’m trying to remind myself as well. Hypocrite may very well be my middle name. A particular behaviour of another may visibly let me down, while I forget the rashness with which I treat my own. It’s only takes a split second to slip on that road of no control. No amount of self assurance from your designation should satisfy if you know that a same (or better) outcome would have followed a gracious turn.
Character is a sum. That bit of unseen good that one can do simply by being gracious, by pulling back and giving others a bit of respect (especially to subordinates) will keep adding to one’s true profile in the organisation. Licking the boots of influential superiors comes naturally for us humans, but tell me about the boss who graciously cared for the last one on the ladder. Loving others and caring in the truest sense runs counter to our base instincts and it requires effort. It almost always has a multiplier effect not visible in the short run.
Because of these, and many more, being gracious is surely worth it.