Friday, September 17, 2010

forgiveness as a leadership tool

I had a phenomenal experience yesterday in class where I had to ask forgiveness from a student, and when he replied "don't worry about it" we as a class had a 15 minute dialogue around the ability to say "I forgive you" and how powerful those words are in a leadership position. I believe most people are afraid to say "I forgive you" because they think that those words nullify any consequences that should follow the inappropriate behavior. But perhaps one of the great things I have personally practiced...and that I teach my students to say are the words "I forgive you AND you're fired" (or fill in the approriate consequence).

The power of forgiveness lies in the fact that through those words realtionships can be healed and people can be freed from their guilt. The consequences will still follow (if you embezzle money from the organization, and upon being caught show true remorse, I will forgive you AND fire hope is that you will know you are forgiven and can then move on with your life in a new position). If leadership is about people and influence, then I need to be a person who understands the need for people to be FREE in their lives - and carrying around guilt will keep one burdened in a way that will never allow them to live out their gifts.

This begins in simple ways:
  1. a report is late in getting to your desk - your colleague says they are sorry it is late - you look at them and decide to say "I forgive you." It may seem silly, but imagine the impact it has on that individual.
  2. a spouse says a harsh word - as soon as it is out of their mouth they say "I'm sorry" - your first response can be "I forgive you" - imagine the differnece that can make in a relationship.
  3. a co-worker speaks a harsh word about you behind your back - you hear about it and confront them. When they apologize, you look at them and say "I forgive you AND is there anything I am doing that caused you to say that?" Imagine the rich conversation that can take place at that moment.
  4. one of your reports is abusive in their relationship to another employee - when their behavior doesn't change, they are put on notice. Finally you have to terminate them from their position. They come to your office in tears realiziung now that their behavior was inappropriate, and ask for another chance. You look at them and respond with "I forgive you AND I have to let you go because of the hurt you have caused others in this organziation and your continued behavior does not show that you have the ability at this point to make the necessary changes." Imagine the effect this can have on the worker - AND on the organization itself.

So how are you at saying those three words? Take time right now to say them outloud - see how they sound - practice them while driving in your your shower...while mowing the yard. And the next time someone says "I'm sorry" be sure to pause and remember to say "I forgive you." Imagine what might happen...

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