In some faiths, the term “grace” is defined as “the unmerited favor of God”. In more earthly terms, grace is when we receive something we don’t deserve, and in fact, can’t possibly earn. When the police officer stops you for going 65 in a 45mph zone, and lets you off with a warning. That’s grace. When you pig out over the holidays, and gain only 2 pounds. That’s grace.
My family and I were recently the recipients of the “unmerited favor of Delta Air Lines”. Or were we? Returning from a European vacation a few weeks ago, we were booked in 4 frequent flyer award seats, in coach, from Prague to Atlanta. Sometimes I have enough miles in my account to upgrade to Delta’s Business Elite (their version of International First Class), but not this trip. A ten-hour transatlantic flight in coach is no one’s idea of pleasant, but considering we paid nothing for these seats, I wasn’t complaining.
A long-haul flight is hard enough when you’re in the best of health, but my teenage son had picked up a nasty cold in Prague, and was feeling pretty lousy. None of us was looking forward to the journey.
When we checked in at Prague, we were told by the Delta ticket agent that, because coach was oversold, all 4 of us were being upgraded to Business Elite. Did we have any problem with that?
This is grace. And maybe a little like, in some ways, Discretionary Effort. I didn’t deserve the upgrades. I didn’t pay for them. I didn’t expect them, and therefore could not have complained had we not received this unmerited favor. And yet, it’ll be a long time before I regain rights to gripe about not scoring an upgrade on a domestic flight with Delta.
And yet, why did Delta pick us, rather than 4 other lucky winners, to fly back in comfort? Two reasons: 1. We checked in relatively early, and 2. I fly Delta a LOT, and was likely the only Platinum Medallion frequent flyer booked in coach for this flight. The airline had to upgrade 4 people. Why not do it for their most loyal customers?
In this way, the “favor” was not entirely unmerited. The same goes for Discretionary Effort. You, as a leader, can’t pay people to go the Extra Mile at work, to give you the Discretionary portion of their effort. You can’t exactly earn it. And because it’s not required, you can’t exact sanctions on people who don’t give it.
However, when someone on your team volunteers to work that extra weekend; covers for a sick colleague; does a 200% job, when 100% would have worked; bends over backward for a customer; quietly does without so the numbers look good this quarter; rolls up their sleeves without regard to their job description; does something on their own initiative rather than being asked; gets to work before you do because they can’t wait to get started; or renders any other manifestation of Discretionary Effort, it may be because their leader cares about them as a person; tells them frequently how much they’re appreciated; looks for ways to help make their job easier; cuts them a little slack when they’re going through a rough patch, has earned their trust; has been a good listener; and in short, has gone the Extra Mile for them over the years.
Favor? Yes. Unmerited? Not entirely.