Grace, Not Pressure
The Five Graces of Life and Leadership

Grace, Not Pressure

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison finds that grace is a leader’s core asset.

In this illustrated leadership guide, Gary Burnison, the CEO of Korn Ferry, identifies grace as the highest quality of leadership. Burnison vests in a personal approach, drawing on childhood stories and thoughtful artistic photographs to break down the intricacies of graceful leadership.


Burnison identifies grace as the inner light of humanity. He organizes his book by using “GRACE” as an acronym for five leadership qualities: “gratitude, resilience, aspiration, courage and empathy.”

The better self – that shines a light for others.Gary Burnison

Feelings of grace can inspire the best in you. You can recognize grace by the joy it brings and the strength it provides. It’s the part of human nature that puts ego aside, so you can rise above yourself to help others.

Five Pillars

Burnison writes that each pillar helps leaders focus on other people, meet life’s challenges with calm confidence and keep their self-importance in check.

Leaders who have the grace to inspire their followers can create hope and earn dedication. Leaders who can’t earn trust can barely lead at all.

It starts with the leader but is never about the leader. Gary Burnison

How you handle a crisis, how you make people feel and the imprint you leave define you as a leader. People admire leaders who manifest the five pillars of grace.

A Powerful Tool

If you lead with your heart, connect on a vulnerable level and speak authentic affirmations, you can fulfill your team members’ basic human need to feel cared about, seen and heard.

Gratitude explains the joy you feel when you give to others without expecting anything in return. The attention and support you give freely to those around you lifts their spirits and energizes their work. And, says Burnison, being available to the people you lead and showing your gratitude builds emotional connections within your organization.

When we are truly thankful, there should be no doubt about it.  Gary Burnison

A lack of gratitude creates resentment and sours the attitudes of those who work for you. People who feel unappreciated may stop caring about their work, because they think their boss – and, therefore, their company – doesn’t value them.

Unstoppable Determination

Resiliency pushes you through tough times and gives you the energy to persevere.

Great leaders inspire persistence while teaching the lessons of failure. To help learning thrive create an atmosphere in which your people feel safe experimenting, even if they fail.

It’s never about the fall – it’s about getting back up. It’s not about the failure –it’s about the learning.Gary Burnison

Burnison believes you can reach greater heights when you see failure as an opportunity to embrace the ambiguities of change, face life’s uncertainties, build inner strength and succeed next time.

Resiliency requires learning from change, adapting to new circumstances and embracing new paths. Be an agile learner, he urges, and discover a better way forward for yourself.

Vision of the Future

Aspiration is the vision of the future you hope for and want to create. Aspiration is your vision of the person you want to become, and it begins with looking ahead.

Stay grounded in reality by setting achievable goals that are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic. Burnison explains that a realistic vision connects people, makes others feel seen and heard, and gives meaning to the work that must be done to achieve your team’s shared mission. A common goal achieved together is an empowering force. You are responsible for guiding your team forward. If your people feel you respect and empathize with them, they will follow you.


To lead others, we first have to lead ourselves. And that requires courage –to be humble, to be self-aware, to honestly look in the mirror.Gary Burnison

Aspirational leaders are vulnerable and authentic. Sharing your failures, uncertainties, hopes and inspiration builds strong connections with your people. Courage is the mind-set that embraces failure for the valuable lessons it teaches.

To set an aspirational example, Burnison teaches, be accountable for your actions, believe in what you’re doing and see your tasks through to the end. You can become a leader others look up to if you lead by doing, not telling.

Be Yourself

Courage is not living without fear; it’s feeling fear and persisting. The courage to be yourself gives you purpose and resolution in the face of fear. Burnison recounts that he once got caught in a rip tide in the ocean. He understood that he had to go with the flow of the current. He was afraid, but he managed to swim back to safety.

Knowledge is what we know, courage is acknowledging what we don’t know.Gary Burnison

Burnison urges you to let your ability to adapt and change in the face of uncertainty foster your willingness to experiment and try new things.

Your followers look to you to give them bravery, so make your leadership actions purposeful. Inspire others with the courage to enter the unknown or take on a daunting challenge. To be brave, be your authentic self. That enables you to make the real connections with other people that build your motivation.


You learn empathy through sharing hardships. Burnison remembers what he learned from his family’s bankruptcy when he was a child.

Grace is what makes us inherently human. Gary Burnison

If you practice empathy, you can acknowledge that all families are different and still journey together with yours, despite your differences. Making people feel seen and heard for their differences fosters a close bond. To create that bond, practice cognitive empathy, work to understand another person’s experiences at a healthy distance. Sympathy allows you to feel what someone else is going through. Compassion helps you to care for their needs above your own.

Inclusive Environment

An inclusive work environment which embraces everyone’s perspective is a sign of successful leadership. To create that kind of corporate culture, interact with everyone on an empathic level. Identify your biases by improving your self-awareness.

Above all, leadership is inspiring others to believe and enabling that belief to become a reality.  Gary Burnison

Empower people by understanding who they are and where they come from. Help them connect. Help them use empathy to turn self-interest into shared interests and motivation.

Successful leaders embody the five qualities of grace, embrace their organization’s aspirations and motivate others through their actions.

Sincere Platitudes

Essentially an attractive and high-minded leadership coffee table book, The Five Graces of Life and Leadership offers a series of inspirational posters that illustrate Burnison’s ideas about the character traits he admires. Some of his stories are winning; some are corny and perhaps too Burnison-centric to be useful to readers.

However, his tales of his poverty-stricken childhood are quite moving and demonstrate the courage to be vulnerable that Burnison espouses. Clearly, he admires grace in action.

His best stories unify readers through common experiences, while also celebrating the differences that broaden people’s perspectives. They inspire to aspire.  

Every page features photographs with captions. Some share pithy, if unoriginal, aphorisms. Others offer superficial insights. Accordingly, Grace’s great virtue is the beauty and elegance of its design. You may want to read every word. More likely, you will savor flipping through the pages and absorbing Burnison’s visual messages.

Gary Burnison also wrote Lose the Resume, Land the Job; Lead; and Advance: The Ultimate How-to Guide for your Career.

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