Life Lessons for Leaders: Forgiveness
I really surprised myself today. I’ve been finalizing a class on Leadership and Forgiveness, and I just knew that I had posted a blog or article over the last three years – at least one! But no, there are none out there. Why was I surprised? Because I think we are in a crisis of leadership – and I think it is because forgiveness is often an afterthought for most organizations, and most people.
Let me explain. Most organizations are looking for quality leaders – people who have vision, can get buy-in from all of the stakeholders, including the employees, people who can make decisions and groom their successors. Did you know that leaders don’t last very long in Corporate America? Often only 3 or 4 years. Forgiveness is a major part of that dilemma. We expect our leaders to never make a mistake, to be God-like in their decisions. We make it extremely difficult for them to accept that they are human, and forgive themselves, let alone offer it to others.
What does your world look like? Perhaps a bit like mine?
- Employers rarely ask their employees to forgive them when they make choices that harm their employee base.
- Parents often don’t seek forgiveness from their children for the things they may have inadvertently taught them or did to them – and to give all of us parents a break, often we didn’t know that we did anything to them because we were not consciously parenting.
- Politicians rarely seek forgiveness from their constituents unless they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Rarely do they look at the bigger picture to consider the harm they may be doing to the people they represent – even the ones who didn’t vote for them, or didn’t contribute money to them. (I ask for your forgiveness – I consciously made a choice to take a dig here.)
- I have had the experience of a rare teacher who asked for forgiveness because she made a mistake. I was amazed, and our son and I fell in love with her immediately. She became his favorite teacher.
- As I was doing my research for this class, I ran across a statement that really clicked with me. “The Game of Life has a reset button – why don’t we use it?” How easy work, family, and relationships would be if we knew how to say “I’m sorry” when we make a mistake, and ask for forgiveness when we make a decision that doesn’t represent who we really came here to be.
Some people equate forgiveness with weakness and a lack of leadership, when, in fact, it means exactly the opposite. When you forgive a mistake, it doesn’t mean that you are excusing it or lowering your expectations. It simply means you will work to increase the possibility of excellence and a desire for improvement. Forgiving organizations experience more trust, stronger relationships with stakeholders, a feeling of humanity in the workplace, higher productivity, higher quality, and better customer service.
As a leader, do you forgive yourself? When you make a mistake, or a choice you wish you had not, do you forgive yourself? Do you ask for forgiveness? Are you willing to be vulnerable and offer forgiveness to those who follow you so they can learn to be leaders themselves?
Create the framework for forgiveness to exist within your family, team or organization:
- First of all, remember that you need to accept that there may be anger and resentment. The process of moving forward is very like the grief process, and it takes time.
- When a situation has occurred, all the parties to the situation must be identified, both those who have offended and those who are the victim. It is important to remember that you are dealing with people – and you could very well be one of them.
- Open up the lines of communication, providing opportunities for people to talk, listen and give each other the support they need.
- You may want to put together an event that symbolically helps people move forward – beginning the healing process, and move toward a higher purpose and away from their individual woes.
- Provide the people in your world the opportunities to do good, as well as doing well. This allows people to practice giving. When I was in Australia this fall, I met with a coach working with a corporation based in Sydney. This company allowed each of it’s employees significant paid time off to volunteer for their favorite charities – some as long as a year. Can you imagine the good will that garnered all the way around?
- Most importantly, stay visible and accessible. Stay open to the conversations and share stories often about employees, leaders, students who have shown integrity in their interactions with others. These things foster a sense of hope.
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Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator. She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner. Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.