We see it in public gestures like Nelson
Mandela forgiving his captors after his long imprisonment or when
President Ford pardoned President Nixon.
And we often see the results when there is no forgiveness.
Like in the news every day - from revenge violence to road rage to people arguing about reclining seats on airplanes.
Yes, Mandela and Ford were leaders, but how does forgiveness apply to us as "everyday" leaders?
It applies immediately and directly.
But before I share my thoughts, let's start with the three types of forgiveness. They are:
• Forgiveness of self
• Forgiveness of others
• Forgiveness of situations
As I describe each, I believe the relevance to you both personally and as a leader will become clear.
Forgiveness of Self
all make mistakes. We all exercise poor judgment. We all screw up. It
is what we do next that matters most. If, after our mistakes, we live in
guilt and in the past where the mistake happened, nothing positive will
come from it.
It's considered a universal truth that "we learn
from our mistakes". Yet this "truth" is missing a couple of components -
lessons in mistakes are there but the learning isn't guaranteed, and
the learning won't come if we are living in the mistake or not willing
or able to reflect on it, or won't let go of it and forgive ourselves
first. A more complete statement of that truth is that "we can learn
from our mistakes if we will let ourselves learn and choose to do so."
And that learning can't happen without self-forgiveness.
are other reasons why self-forgiveness is important. It will allow
ourselves to focus on the future, rather than the past, and it will
allow us to reduce our stress and frustration (and makes us healthier
Forgiveness of Others
When you read the title of this article, this was probably the type of forgiveness you were thinking of.
for a second about the way you feel about a person who hasn't forgiven
you. Do you want to be around them, or work for or with them? Are you
willing to give them your best effort? Or does the barrier between you
(which can include self-forgiveness too) keep you from moving forward?
we don't forgive others, we set ourselves up for animosity, reduced
productivity, more conflict and drastically lowered trust.
So how open to forgiving others are you?
Forgiveness of Situations
happen that might not be anyone's "fault". Do you know people who
continue to dwell on a past situation that caused them grief or pain,
even if it was just a situation? When we are able to forgive situations,
we are able to let go of those negative feelings and move forward.
forgiveness of situations defines how forgiving you tend to be of
negative circumstances, events, or situations that are beyond anyone's
control. This would include things like illnesses, natural disasters and
Can you let go of these situations so you can move forward?
you hear yourself saying lots of "If only... " or "If it had just
happened that way... " type statements, you likely have a ways to go in
When we can forgive, we can move from a
past focus to a future focus, which provides us with hope,
accountability, and the opportunity for growth and advancement. As long
as we (or others, or an entire group) are living in the past, no
progress can be made.
Because error is part of being human,
forgiveness allows mistakes, failure, slip ups, errors in judgment and
decision making, flaws and other breakdowns to become a source of
increased wisdom and learning. Without the forgiveness, the same events
and situations create more divisiveness, angst, conflict and discord.
best leaders use the practice of forgiveness to transform themselves
and their organizations into forward-looking, agile learners and promote
better results every day.
If you are still reading and
still are having reservations, it is likely that you agree with my
premise, but aren't sure how to let go. Perhaps this quotation from the
psychiatrist Thomas Szasz will help - "The stupid neither forgive nor
forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not
The point is instructive. Events, mistakes and mishaps in
the past can be learned from, but only if we can let them go through
forgiveness. This does not mean we should forget those events, but
rather put them in the proper perspective. They are events in the past
that we can't change now, but we can learn from.
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