Forgiveness, The Unspoken Soft Skill

Should leaders be forgiving? Have you ever heard the word forgiveness in any form from anybody inside the organizational walls pertaining to anything business? Forgiveness is certainly not a mainstream mindset or conversation but the question is if a leader understood the value of forgiveness and was willing to forgive, would they be a better leader inspiring better performance on their teams? The answer is a solid yes because forgiveness is a future word. It means let go of the past and move to great things yet to be and as a CEO, isn’t that how your really want our people to think.

So many questions floating around the idea of leadership forgiveness because it is kind of a vulnerable squishy word at work. Forgiveness in many cultures is tantamount to another “F” word and has no place in a leadership dynamic. Leaders traditionally demonstrate their leadership by putting on leadership armor, charge hard and demand performance from people. Leaders aren’t there to forgive, they are there to drive performance and get results, no exceptions. Forgiveness is what we refer to as a very simple complicated concept.

The truth is, forgiveness is a very very powerful idea, and can be a huge motivation multiplier to anybody, and the key ingredient to retaining good people. However, forgiveness requires leaders to be vulnerable and transparent, and to many people this is so foreign that it’s just not going to happen. That doesn’t diminish it’s awesome value.

Think of the goals that can be achieved in a spirit of forgiveness. Solving problems, capturing opportunities, and inspiring solutions can only happen in a culture and spirit of hope. Yet resentment and hope cannot occupy the same mental space at the same time. Resentment cancels out hope. If a leader cannot forgive, hope is sacrificed, and the organization misses out on some really good things. Also understand that forgiveness and selfishness have an inverse relationship. Selfish minds have the most difficulty with forgiveness because forgiveness is about “you” not “me”. In fact, the level of one’s selfishness is an indicator of their ability to forgive. Likewise, unselfish personalities often forgive freely and easily because there are no interruptions.

What’s most interesting about forgiveness is that over time it is the one thing we want the most but give the least. Every leader at some point makes a mistake that they want forgiveness for, but that same leader can struggle with reciprocating forgiveness when other people make mistakes. People see this, they feel this, and it is very demotivating. We have heard numerous times in coaching a leader that somebody on their team made a mistake so egregious that they can’t forgive them. No, they aren’t able to forgive them. Don’t mistake “I can’t” with “I’m not able” or “I’m just not going to” or “I’m secretly afraid to be vulnerable enough to forgive”.

Forgiveness can be misunderstood because it does have a timing to it. Forgiveness doesn’t steal a leader’s ability to hold somebody accountable, give a team member their annual review, demand a set of standards and expectations because the premise of forgiveness is the future. A leader can forgive another person and still put them on a performance improvement plan because forgiveness replaces frustrations and resentments, inspires a spirit of hope in which solutions can materialize. Forgiveness doesn’t wash somebody’s leadership in weakness. In fact, it empowers leadership and motivates people to collaborate and want to give their best.

Forgiveness is the conduit to the allow a failure to move forward. Forgiveness prevents leaders from getting stuck in resentment, and compounding negative emotions by living in the “why” a failure happened. It enables leaders to move from holding people accountable to not fail and not do things wrong, to accountability to succeed and to do things right. You just have to forgive.