The Leader Ability to Forgive

By | October 19, 2021

[October 19, 2021]  One of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted characteristic of a leader is the ability to forgive.  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 by those opposing him that “Southern rebels were the enemy to be destroyed,” Lincoln 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 successful military and political leaders, I was happy to see that most were 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 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 current slate of 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.


[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.


Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “The Leader Ability to Forgive

  1. Cat A Miss

    The more I read this leadership blog by Gen. Satterfield, the more I’m learning about leadership. But there is something MORE important, as I’m also learning more about myself and how to be a better person.

  2. Nick Lighthouse

    Hey, folks be sure to take a look at Gen. Satterfield”s DAILY FAVORITES. He has some really good articles that also give you something to think about, over a cup of tasty coffee. Me? I read the daily favorites and get a lot from them.

    1. Army Captain

      I agree, Nick. Intellectually stimulating. Ha Ha. THought you might be interested in the “intellectual” part.

  3. Max Foster

    Gen. Doug Satterfield has once again put up an idea to be considered. The fact that this is so important, it cannot be overlooked. This article, in my opinion, understates the power of forgiveness. I know that Christian teachings have “forgiveness” as a central theme and that is for a reason; it works! Let’s not also overlook the importance of it. Just try applying it.

    1. Colleen Ramirez

      Max, excellent point and I was thinking the same thing. Not enough of us have learned the old time lessons of human relationships and that is what leadership is all about. Therefore, its linkage with religion is no surprise. The entwine between religion and leadership is a tight one.

  4. Eric Coda

    “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.” Main point, well taken. Many should take this to heart. Otherwise we have a zero tolerance leader and that is mini-tyranny in the making. The result of which is not good.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Point taken, Eric, and excellent analysis. Gen. Satterfield is on top of this issue. His pointing to Christianity as a foundation for his article is appropriate and should be emphasized. 👍

      1. Gil Johnson

        Yes, and I agree. That is why I read as much as I can on leadership and its linkage to religion, esp. to Christianity. Otherwise, where would we be?

  5. Jeff Blackwater

    Very good article,,, peaked my interest as well. Keep these coming our way, Gen. S.

  6. Rowen Tabernackle

    Something to think about. Of course, as a footnote, Gen. Satterfield has added the parallel to the Bible and our religous teachings. Correct. I think that should have been a major point, not subject to a footnote.


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