The Dance of a Graceful Leader


Founder and Co-owner

As seen on LinkedIn.

Graceful leadership is like a ballet. 

Ballet dancers are the epitome of grace to me because they are fluid yet intentional with their movement. When I watch a ballet, a sense of peace comes into my being, one moment building on another as the dancers take you on a journey that flows with great power. 

Graceful leadership is similar, with the leader flowing to wherever they need to be when they need to be there. 

A graceful leader steps back and forth. 

In the ballet of graceful leadership, the graceful leader pulls self back and others forward to do what is needed. When people talk about conscious leadership and servant leadership, they frequently talk about how the leader leads from behind. A leader who is always at the front, pulling their team along behind them, is not graceful. However, the humble, self-deprecating leader who is always at the back, out of the limelight, is not graceful either. 

A graceful leader recognizes that their role is fluid. Sometimes, yes, a leader needs to lead from behind. Other times, they need to be up front. The graceful leader can pull to the back in one moment and then march forward to the front in the next, intuiting what the situation dictates. 

They swing back and forth as needed, never staying in either position for one nanosecond longer than needed. In a crisis, they move up front, taking the hits and clearing the way, and then as soon as the storm breaks, they hand command off to their lieutenants and fall back, letting their team take over.

A graceful leader sees the whole picture.

The graceful leader is focused on the collective, not on individual achievement. When my boss pulled me aside and told me I needed to change how I gave feedback, he was focusing on the collective. My individual achievement was high. However, it was more important that the team as a whole function smoothly. 

Graceful leaders understand that the wins and losses are everybody’s—theirs and their team’s. Most leaders understand this cognitively, yet their behavior typically doesn’t support that knowing. 

Too often leaders like to be up front when winning, taking credit. They think they’re being humble when, often, what they’re doing is depriving their team of sharing in a win. Graceful leaders are able to step back and celebrate others, while also taking a certain level of responsibility for their team’s mistakes.

A graceful leader is adaptable. 

Adaptability underpins graceful leadership. It ensures situational appropriateness while remaining authentically you. You won’t be the exact same leader to each person on your team, because each person requires different things. You could say something to one person, and they’ll take it well, and to another person, the same thing will hurt their feelings. As a graceful leader, it is your responsibility to learn how to adapt your style and behavior without changing your foundational essence.

The graceful leader never forgets when they should lead and when they should submit to the leadership of the collective. Having moved from an “I” to a “we” construct, they intuitively and consciously understand that together a group of human beings with good leadership can come up with a more impactful solution than any one person can on their own. 

A graceful leader lets others lead.

I frequently see leaders go in with the attitude “I know how we’re going to do this, and I’m going to guide them to my answer.” That is manipulative, not graceful. Grace means letting go of the how and the outcome and actually letting the team come to their own solution. 

This doesn’t mean the leader is passive. Rather, the leader is simply curious and open to all possibilities, withholding judgment. Think of a sailboat and how a captain charts a course. The captain sets a direction, then adjusts to the wind to harness its power to get to the desired location. 

Oftentimes it is helpful to picture yourself as the captain, guiding and harnessing the power of the team (the wind) to find the best course to the desired outcome. When you sense your need to control, pause, breathe, and be the captain. More often than not, the solution that arises from such co-creation is stronger than what the leader could come up with on their own.

A graceful leader flows in harmony. 

From the outside, graceful leadership looks like gentle communication, curiosity, flexibility, and holistic problem-solving. It might look like a lot of work. From the inside, though, graceful leadership feels like an easy harmony, not work. Once you get the hang of it and put in the upfront work, you will be able to flow through the dance of being a graceful leader with ease.  

For more advice on graceful leadership, you can find The Power of a Graceful Leader on Amazon.

Alexsys Thompson offers this body of work as a testament to her own leadership journey, as well as the journey of hundreds of other leaders. For Alexsys, the tipping point came when she established her gratitude practice and spent a decade refining it. Today, developing a gratitude practice is a key element of her work as a board-certified executive coach. Alexsys also serves as adjunct staff for The Center for Creative Leadership and is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She authored The Trybal Gratitude Journals, curated a collection of short stories called Gratitude 540, and is building a retreat center in Vermont that will be a “safe space for souls to show up.”

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