[March 11, 2015] One of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted characteristic of a senior leader is forgiveness. Rarely talked about and while practiced by many, unevenly applied. Leaders who practice forgiveness will benefit everyone in their organization and simultaneously retain the best worker talent and improve performance.
People make mistakes – some unintentional and some by choice – that should be considered as human. Leaders need to make the appropriate judgment whether those mistakes made by choice should be forgiven based on many factors. However, those mistakes that are unintentional should regularly be forgiven. A work environment where respect is practiced will also be a place where people feel comfortable working and that leads to employee wellbeing and productivity.
A famous leader practicing forgiveness was U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. During his second inaugural address, shortly before his assassination, he talked about the necessity of mutual forgiveness between North and South. The nation had been torn apart in a bloody civil war and his instinct was to heal that rift. Despite criticism that Southern rebels were the enemy to be destroyed, he knew that the only way to push the nation forward was by encouraging forgiveness on both sides.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Having known many military and political leaders, I was often perplexed that most were so willing to forgive the transgressions of those who worked for them. They displayed respect, of course, but also patience and possessed a forgiving attitude that permeated the organization. It was much later when I was a senior leader also that I better understood why. Some of the most ineffective and weakest leaders I’ve known did not have forgiveness as a trait.
Forgiveness provides a sense of hope and togetherness. Failing to forgive encourages divisiveness and destruction. It is easy to see that in our public political leaders. Those politicians who cannot admit to making any mistake and who can never forgive others for a mistake are also the very ones who are most narcissistic and polarizing.
Senior leadership means forgiving people for their mistakes … with no conditions and no excuses. This is one of the differences in great leaders and those that simply occupy the position.
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[Note] While I am not writing about spiritual forgiveness, it nevertheless has many parallels here. If the basis of a leader’s forgiveness is based on forgiveness or on practicality, that is to be applauded and rewarded because the results are the same.