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The Importance of Unmerited Grace in Meritocracies: Why Leaders Should Encourage It

In a world that values meritocracy, where people are rewarded based on their skills, abilities, and hard work, it's easy to forget the importance of unmerited grace. Unmerited grace is the act of showing kindness, forgiveness, and generosity to others, even when they don't deserve it. This concept may seem counterintuitive in a meritocracy, where individuals are expected to earn their rewards through their own efforts. However, as leaders, it's important to recognize the value of unmerited grace in creating a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. In this blog, we'll discuss what grace in leadership looks like within a meritocracy and how leaders can be conduits of grace and create a more equitable and fair organization.

Are you leading a meritocracy?

Here are some signs that your organization may be a meritocracy:

  1. There is a strong emphasis on individual achievement and performance, with rewards and promotions based on objective measures of success.

  2. There is a competitive environment, with employees constantly striving to outperform one another.

  3. There is little tolerance for mistakes or failure, and individuals are often punished or excluded for not meeting expectations.

  4. There is a lack of emphasis on teamwork or collaboration, with individuals more concerned about their own success than the success of the organization as a whole.

While these traits may be desirable in some contexts, they can also create a toxic workplace culture that undermines the well-being of employees and the organization as a whole. This is where unmerited grace can play a critical role in creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

How can grace benefit meritocracies?

Unmerited grace is the act of showing kindness, forgiveness, and generosity to others, even when they don't deserve it. This can include acts of compassion, understanding, and empathy towards colleagues who may be struggling or going through a difficult time. It can also involve recognizing and valuing the contributions of individuals who may not have the same level of skills or abilities as others, but who bring unique perspectives and experiences to the workplace.

How can leaders encourage grace?

As leaders, it's important to encourage unmerited grace in our organizations. This can involve modeling these behaviors ourselves, as well as creating policies and practices that promote compassion, forgiveness, and empathy in the workplace. Here are some ways that leaders can encourage unmerited grace in their organizations:

  1. Foster a culture of inclusion and diversity: Encourage and celebrate the diversity of your workforce, and create policies and practices that ensure that everyone feels valued and included.

  2. Recognize and value the contributions of all employees: While some employees may have more skills or abilities than others, it's important to recognize the unique contributions that each individual brings to the workplace.

  3. Encourage empathy and compassion: Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles and supporting one another through difficult times.

  4. Emphasize the importance of forgiveness: Encourage employees to forgive one another for mistakes or misunderstandings, and create a culture where people feel comfortable admitting their mistakes and learning from them.

Encouraging unmerited grace in meritocracies not only promotes a more supportive and inclusive workplace culture, but it also ensures that policies and practices are equitable and fair for everyone. When policies and practices are based solely on meritocracy, there is a risk that certain individuals or groups may be unfairly disadvantaged. For example, someone who has experienced systemic discrimination or has faced significant obstacles in their life may not have had the same opportunities to develop the same level of skills or abilities as someone who has not faced these challenges. Meritocracy may therefore unintentionally perpetuate inequalities, which can undermine the organization's goals and values.

What does the Bible say about grace in leadership?

The Bible offers guidance on the importance of providing what people need, rather than just what they've earned. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In the story, a landowner hires workers at different times throughout the day, but pays them all the same amount at the end of the day. The workers who were hired earlier in the day are upset that they are paid the same as those who were hired later, even though they worked longer. The landowner responds, "I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:13-15 NIV).

This parable illustrates the idea that providing what people need is fair and just, even if it may not seem equitable from a meritocratic standpoint. By offering unmerited grace and focusing on what team members need and not just what they have earned, leaders can create policies and practices that are guided by principles of generosity, compassion, and empathy, rather than strict adherence to meritocratic principles. This approach can lead to a more equitable and fair workplace culture, where everyone has an opportunity to succeed based on their own unique talents and contributions.

In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, the apostle Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be generous in their giving to support the needs of others. He writes, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’" (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NIV). We can see that in this passage of scripture that the word "equality" has social implications that suggest Paul wanted an equitable community by ensuring that everyone's needs were equally met.

This passage highlights the importance of generosity and equity in supporting the needs of others. It emphasizes the idea that we are all interconnected, and that by showing grace and generosity towards others, we can create a more just and equitable society. Are not organizations, businesses, and churches simply micro-societies? They have government, laws, various cultures, and economies too, and this passage provides guidance regarding how to lead them with grace and create a workplace culture that values the needs of all employees and strives for fairness and justice.

Are you a conduit of God's grace?

In conclusion, while meritocracy has its place in organizations and serves as a valuable framework for rewarding individual achievements, the concept of unmerited grace is equally important. Leaders must recognize that they have the power to be conduits of God's grace, and that demonstrating grace in various forms is essential, particularly in the face of the most challenging circumstances. By embracing unmerited grace, leaders can create a workplace culture that values compassion, forgiveness, and empathy, ensuring fairness and justice for all employees. Balancing meritocracy with unmerited grace not only strengthens the organization but also nurtures a supportive and inclusive environment where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Let us commit to being leaders who exemplify grace and seek opportunities to extend it to others, building organizations that reflect the divine qualities of compassion and fairness.


Dr. Wanita Mercer, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Lead My Heart, an executive coaching and consulting company specializing in equipping executives and executive teams to live and lead with purpose, passion, and power. She has a Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in organizational leadership, and she is certified in life coaching, executive coaching, change management, project management, executive management, and corporate crisis management. She has over 15 years of experience as an international educator, motivational speaker, author, and civic leader. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.


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