Have you ever met someone that you have always wanted to meet, only to find that person to be unengaging and disinterested in meeting you? I am sure you have. We have all experienced that disappointment from time to time. Maybe you were that person to someone else. Maybe I was that person. We never know what someone is experiencing when we meet them – maybe it’s just an off day. Perhaps on the day you met her, she was sick or sad or greatly troubled. Maybe in that brief moment you were introduced to him, he had just lost a big contract or worse, one of his key aides. Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s really just who someone is. It’s indicative of that person’s true character.

On the other hand, have you met someone of notoriety who completely turned the tables and seemed genuinely excited to meet you? He asked about you. She looked you in the eye and gave you a warm greeting. You were thanked for coming. That person made you feel like you were the only person in the room by being totally focused on the moment, the hour or the day spent with you. In that interaction, that kind of person has tremendous influence. It’s indicative of that person’s character. This person has developed the character trait of being gracious.

The most gracious person I have ever met is former First Lady Laura Bush. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit with her at an event. Ordinarily, in those situations, I will quietly introduce myself, but allow the individual privacy. In fact, I assume that is the expectation. Mrs. Bush’s graciousness was inviting and she was more than kind to share the moment and engage with me. From her, I learned the power that a spirit of graciousness can have to positively influence others.

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So, what did I learn?

  1. Graciousness costs us nothing but means the world to the other person. On Mrs. Bush’s part, it was only a smile, a warm handshake and choosing just the right words, “It’s an honor to meet you.” For me, I have met thousands of people since I met Mrs. Bush, but I have never forgotten the way she made me feel. It’s true that people might not remember your resume or anything you say, but they will remember the way you make them feel.
  1. Graciousness is a great differentiator. In my experience, gracious leaders are harder to come by. These leaders are humble and focus on serving others, not on others serving them. They do the unexpected and serve those who serve, rather than expecting to be served.
  1. Graciousness breeds authenticity. People who desire to be authentic understand that they can also, by nature of their position or role, intimidate others. They have to work hard at maintaining a humble, gracious spirit to make themselves approachable to others.
  1. Graciousness requires a level of vulnerability. Sometimes, people will take advantage of your graciousness and humility. However, people who are grounded in their beliefs about the world and themselves are not shaken. They find freedom in knowing they showed up authentically, regardless of the reception they received.
  1. Gracious people are influential people. People enjoy following gracious leaders. They are assured that they will be treated kindly and that the leader’s public persona will be a positive role model. These followers know that an occasional mistake will become a learning lesson, not a moment for degradation.

Gracious leaders are not pushovers, either. They just know there is a time and a place for everything. They understand that treating others with honor, dignity and respect is an extraordinary way to expand influence. To treat others any other way is a sure way to diminish it.

If you want to grow your influence, then learn, develop and employ the character trait of being gracious.

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