By Phillip Weiss
“To err is human, to forgive divine.” Alexander Pope
The word forgive doesn’t often make it into leadership speak as it has a quality that seems more appropriate to a sermon. But, really, this is a uniquely human issue that applies to all of life – professional included.
Interestingly, one of the world’s leading executive coaches, Marshall Goldsmith, will often lead with this concept in his coaching work. He’ll sometimes ask clients, “is there someone from whom you need to ask for forgiveness?” It’s a powerful question.
I suspect that he’s very clear that high-quality, clean relationships are the bedrock of well-performing organizations.
As I think about it, there are several elements to the concept:
1. Asking for Forgiveness: I get it. This is very hard to do! First of all, it’s tough to even get to the place where we realize that we’ve made a mistake. (There is actually science behind the reality that our brains naturally create a blindness to our own part in an issue.) But then there’s the very real challenge of having the humility to initiate the conversation. Some questions to think about:
- How do I get objective about my part in a situation?
- What tools do I have to help me get clearer?
- Are there any trusted coworkers who can help me think through this?
- Once clear that I need to ask for forgiveness, what enables me to take that step?
- What gets in the way of taking that step?
2. Extending Forgiveness: On the other side of the equation is actually forgiving someone. I’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like swallowing a poison pill and thinking that the effect will be on the other person. In other words, unforgiveness usually does its biggest number on the unforgiving person in the long haul.
Also, it’s definitely easier when someone asks for forgiveness. But what about when they don’t? Can I still forgive? Tough stuff! So, more to think about:
- What keeps me in unforgiveness?
- What would it look like to calm myself down and do my best thinking?
- Is there an anxious, automatic learned response here that prevents me from moving toward forgiveness (i.e. anger, pride, a sense of “rightness”)?
- How would it serve me if I forgave?
- How would it serve the other person?
- How would it serve the organization?
For better or worse, we’re not just working with computer programs, equipment, and spreadsheets when we go to work or log in. The human dynamic is, by far, the most powerful and potentially rewarding element of our jobs. And like anything worth doing it takes hard work, and sometimes… a good dose of humility and courage.