Forgiveness offers people the chance to take risks, to be creative, to learn and to grow their own leadership capabilities. Holding onto resentment, bitterness and spite is not what transformational leadership is all about.

-Manfred Kets de Vries, INSEAD Professor of Leadership
Development and Organizational Change

Without a doubt at some point in your career either your company or one of your fellow employees will do something that is, or you perceive as unjust to you. The critical reflection point is how you respond in such circumstances. Do you bring about healing rather than retaliation?

Years ago, so not any client who is currently receiving this email, I was coaching an executive Vice President of Sales. We developed a trusting relationship where he felt safe to share his deeply hidden, yet working leadership value. “If someone hits me (perceived unfairness), I always retaliate. And I make sure it is when the person least expects it.” His chest expanded a bit during the telling, but his eyes shifted uneasily because at some level he knew what he said was out of sync with how he portrayed himself publicly. He went on to say, “They may never know it was me who cracked them, but I know!

Wow! This senior executive apparently didn’t know anything about the transformational leadership concept of Forgiveness. Can you imagine the work environment he created? You’re right. It was one of anxiety, paranoia and lack of trust. Yes, he did change though it wasn’t an easy, primrose pathway for him to follow. It took hard work. And he did reap the rewards of his attitude shift by increased retention, improved productivity, enhanced profitability and his executive star on the rise.

Many perhaps, even you, are thankful that you come out way ahead on your internal comparison scale as you read about this executive. Yes, he represents the far end of the scale one we hope we don’t fall prey to, but harm comes not only from such blatant behavior. Anytime we go into judgment on another and hold resentment tight—even when unexpressed—we are doing damage to the work environment.

Forgiveness is a bridge between co-workers that is instrumental in defusing conflict, lowering stress and bring about greater efficiencies all of which positively impacts the bottom-line of an organization.

What is a balanced Forgiveness focus?

It is choosing to reframe, in a beneficial way for both parties, any negative encounters, and it is never stuffing your feelings down or withdrawing as the wounded martyr. A balanced approach has you acknowledging to yourself what you are feeling, and then, and only then determining what your best action would be moving forward. Do you need to talk about the situation in a healthy way? Do you need to forgive as you continue the working relationship? Forgiveness, in the office, is always about exploring what is best for you, the other person, and the organization. This mindset is not weak it requires strength.

What is a “just right” Forgiveness focus?

Forgiveness is all on you. It is your choice to forgive another’s behavior or not. The reality is that retaliation or revenge may be your brain’s natural response, but such a reaction will damage you more than the offender. Even if you don’t retaliate and instead decide to suppress your resentment, you lose because holding onto such charged emotions ends up torturing you. It is your ability to put aside your feelings and accept that no one is perfect, and everyone deserves a second chance that has you building your career on a strong, healthy foundation. A commitment to such an attitude generates an environment of inclusion and excellence.

What are some simple shifts you can make to engage your Forgiveness?

  • It’s Not About Them—It’s About You: You don’t forgive someone else merely to mend them or the relationship, you do it for yourself and the organization. Ryan Fehr’s, Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, research regarding Forgiveness indicates we experience a sense of lightness when we absolve someone who has wronged us in some way. He goes on to say, “A workplace that encourages forgiveness and constructive conflict management is going to be more successful than an organization that views forgiveness as weak.”
  • Lack of Forgiveness Harms: So, this isn’t something that just sounds nice, there is a cost to holding a grudge and not practicing Forgiveness. At the Compassion and Business Conference at Stanford University, Jay Narayanan, Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, demonstrated the cost of holding a grudge. “He described an experiment showing grudge-holders perceived a hill as steeper than did people who had been asked to recall a time they’d forgiven someone—it was as if the grudge was a heavy load weighing people down. Yet, we resist forgiving others because we fear it will make us appear weak and invite exploitation, when in fact the research suggests we’ll be viewed positively.”

What does it look like when you take Forgiveness too far?

I sometimes experience Forgiveness as being used to slap me on the side of the head while looking demure and above reproach, don’t you? You know the, “I forgive you for ya-da-da” which is more of a pointing-finger attack than any attempt to restore a relationship. That’s not to say there is never an occasion to express your Forgiveness out loud to another, but you better be sure that by everyone’s measurement harm has been done to you by the other person. And additionally, be sure you are crossing the bridge without any emotional hooks and with the intention of reconciliation.

On the other hand, I can’t think of a time when if you are the one who did harm, and you’re sincerely asking for Forgiveness of your actions (as in the video below) where such a dialogue wouldn’t be healing for both parties.

Do you know your strengths?

Via Character Strength is another tool to assist you in the journey toward self-awareness which is foundational to influential leadership. Perhaps, you are interested in taking a deeper dive into your Strengths to explore how gaining broader knowledge on the topic will support your career growth. Or, as a manager, you may want to build your team through establishing a foundation for robust, productive interactions. Call or email me, if you’re curious to dig in a bit deeper into building teams that produce outstanding results.


Dr. Peter Attia’s video is an important discussion about our “I know what I know” mind that holds our judgment is right and an equally powerful demonstration of Forgiveness. Think about his journey into understanding another person’s point of view and the breakthrough work it led him to discover. Can you translate this level of openness and testing to the real life work issues you are experiencing right now? Where are you holding judgment that is harming both you and your co-worker?

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