Forgiving May Be The Best Form Of Living (and Leading)

I haven’t read a lot of leadership articles that tackle the subject of forgiveness. Yet with all of the other leadership talk pointed at allowing people to fail, learning from one’s mistakes, and getting up one more time after you fall down…forgiveness has a huge role to play here.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Forgiveness is difficult. But just because it’s hard doesn’t take away from the fact that it is vitally necessary.

This week, Stephen Covey passed away. He has marked our time with such a profound and wonderful perspective on living life well. One of the principles that he was well-known for is the “win-win.” It is the fourth habit in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. In this scenario, people on opposing sides of a situation or decision come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

I’d like to propose that forgiveness is one of the paths to win-win. 

I know it doesn’t look that way, especially if you’re the one who has been wronged, hurt, beat up, or taken advantage of. But don’t quit reading just yet. There’s a secret power to forgiveness and it effects both the forgiver and the forgiven.

The secret is freedom.

Forgiveness is necessary because we live in a society and culture that keeps score. We always have a running tally in our heads about where we stand alongside others: relationally, financially, and emotionally.

Even when we try not to keep score, we still know when the little things start to add up to one big thing between us and another person. I think we’re born with this innate scoring system.

I remember when my son, Mitch was playing T-Ball. One of the rules was every player made it to first base, no matter how the play turned out. On one play in particular, Mitch was playing first base out in the field. The boy at bat hit the ball to Mitch’s teammate playing second base. The kid fielded the ball nicely and tossed the ball to Mitch who was standing with his foot on the first base bag and the runner was out. Great play.

After the coaches from the other team told the batter to take his place on first base, I (while coaching in the field) watched Mitch turn to the kid who was standing on first base and say, “You know you’re out, right? They’re just letting you stay on first so you don’t feel bad about yourself!”

Smart kid.

If you’re leading others, there will always be times where forgiveness is necessary. In fact, if your team is going to move past the conflicts, the tensions, the failures, the mistakes, and the resentments – you’ll need to find ways to forgive one another.

Here’s two things to consider when it comes to forgiveness:

1. We all need forgiveness.

Realize that you are not immune from the need for forgiveness. Allow the effect of those moments when you were forgiven inspire your own willingness to forgive others.

2. Forgiveness provides freedom.

Forgiveness ends the never-ending scorekeeping that occurs when we’ve been wronged by someone else. Yes, it frees the person who hurt us – meaning they no longer owe us anything. But it also frees the one who forgives. It frees us from carrying around this weight of resentment, bitterness, anger, and vengeance. We are free because we let it go.

I am always amazed at the people who stand in front of those who’ve hurt them and say to them, “I forgive you.”

Forgiveness moves us toward a win-win because it ends the game and we don’t keep score anymore.

Forgiveness is something we like to talk about, but just like pushing the snooze button when it’s time to get up, we put it off. Your team or organization might be stuck and the only thing that will move it forward is for people to forgive each other. As the leader, this process may need to start with you.

What do you think? Is there someone you need to forgive? When is the last time you encouraged the people on your team to forgive each other in order to restore relationship?

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