Skip to main content

News & Events

News & Events


SEF News & Success Stories

Our Five Graces

The Five Graces book cover

Three Things will take the next week off, so in closing out the year, we thought we would share with you some inspiring words from Gary Burnison, the CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of The Five Graces of Life and Leadership.

Burnison writes that, like truth, art, or love, grace is often hard to define. But we know it when we see it and when we experience it.

He adds that as we all strive to become our better selves, we can find inspiration in the five graces—gratitude, resilience, aspiration, courage, and empathy. Each captures an invaluable human trait, and together they literally compose the word “grace.”

Here are his thoughts:

Gratitude. On the corner of my home office desk is a scrapbook: a celebration of the past 50 years of our firm. Whenever I need perspective the most, I turn to those pages and see the mosaic of colleagues past and present—the heart and soul of our firm—and I know why I am here. I see smiles and laughter and celebrations. I think of the stories people have shared—struggles, successes, and milestones along the way. We’ve congratulated each other on weddings and the births of children, we’ve comforted each other in times of illness, and we’ve expressed condolences on the loss of loved ones. Because when family and friends are deeply connected, that’s what they do. And for this we are grateful.

Resilience. Over the years, and especially during the holidays, our parents, grandparents, and other relatives tell stories about their lives. These stories have a lasting impact, reminding us there is always a way. I’ll never forget the story an executive shared with me earlier this year about his mother who, when she was in her late 90s, contracted a serious infection that required hospitalization. As her condition worsened, the doctor gave the sad prognosis that she wouldn’t make it. The time had come for the family to arrange hospice for her. Thinking that his mother was sleeping, the executive quietly approached the hospital bed and called out gently to her. Suddenly, this woman, who had seemed near death a few minutes before, snapped her eyes open and replied in a heavy Italian accent, “I heard what you and the doctors were talking about. I am not going anywhere.” Two weeks later, she was well enough to be discharged from hospice. Ever resilient, she lived another two years—nearly reaching 100 years of age! The moral of the story: never underestimate the indomitable human spirit. That’s the resilience that propels us forward.

Aspiration. Hope, desire, longing, yearning, wish, aim.... Each of these words speaks to an aspect of aspiration, but it is far more than all of them. Aspiration has nothing to do with those momentary wants—the kind of dreams that captured us as children. So many of us can remember sitting down with that thick Sears catalog and turning its pages full of pictures as we made our holiday lists. (One year, all I wanted was Green Bay Packers gear -- a jersey, helmet, and pads.) Aspiration, though, is far more than a passing fad or fancy. It is a vision—a goal—capturing no less than who we are and what we want to become. As we raise our sights, we elevate others.

Courage. During these times of rapid change, things can get very uncomfortable. We’re in constant transition—like trapeze artists flying through the air. We can’t make the next trapeze appear automatically—we must wait for it. Then, as it approaches, we let go of the old trapeze so we can reach for the new one. In that moment—completely ungrounded—we need courage. Courage is not about having “no fear,” but rather to “know fear.” How else can we progress? By following our values and drawing from past experiences, we find a way forward “knowing what to do when we don’t know what to do.”

Empathy. We see people for who they really are as we meet them wherever they are. This is the power of empathy—we can see it in our brains. As the Korn Ferry Institute explains, brain imaging shows us how different aspects of empathy engage our minds and emotions. First is cognitive empathy, which allows us to understand others’ emotional experiences while maintaining a healthy detachment. This is how we intellectually walk in someone else’s shoes. Second is sympathy—or emotional empathy—that allows us to feel what another person is experiencing. Too much sympathy, though, can make us feel pain as if it were our own. When suffering becomes too intense, we are prone to protect ourselves by putting up barriers. The third is compassion, or empathetic care, which we experience as concern for others. This form of empathy allows us to set aside our own concerns and reach out to help. Empathy is not just something we talk about—others must feel it.

When we think about the mission of SEF to support kids with disabilities, I believe that we live by these five graces every day.

Thank you for your help and support in making the lives of these children better.