3 Things Leaders Need To Know About Forgiveness

3 Things Leaders Need To Know About Forgiveness post image

“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

This was a text I received a few months ago. I struggled with how to respond. My struggle wasn’t because I did not intend to forgive.

It was because this simple statement caused me to think about the following questions:

  • What does forgiveness really mean?
  • What is someone truly asking when they ask to be forgiven?
  • And what is the ultimate impact of forgiveness on our relationships?

Now before I share the insights from my inquiry into forgiveness, you may be wondering: “what does forgiveness have to do with leadership?”

The simple answer is this:

Trust is a leader’s currency, and the willingness to forgive and the courage to responsibly ask for forgiveness sets the value of that currency. Said another way, without forgiveness trust is fragile.

What does it mean to forgive?

Letting go of the hurt, frustration, and upset, as well as releasing the person you are forgiving from any responsibility for their impact on your life from this moment forward.

[Tweet “When someone lets you down at work, are you willing to let go so your relationship can start fresh?”]

So Ask yourself when someone lets you down at work: are you willing to let go of the past so your relationship can start fresh? As a leader, are you really willing to give someone a shot at earning your trust? Or have you concluded that they are unworthy of your trust? Know that your honest answer to these questions will have a profound effect on those you lead.

Consider that when you fail to forgive you hold yourself hostage to hurt and disappointment, and you hold the other person responsible for your future.

What is really being asked of you when someone asks for your forgiveness?

Some will be asking you to forget what happened. They will hope that you will let them off the hook and begin again in your relationship as though nothing ever happened.

Others will experience remorse and even shame, yet still want you to let them off the hook.

And then there are those who despite their personal feelings, take full responsibility for their mistake or transgression by demonstrating a commitment to clean up their mess and promise to do things better going forward. These are the people who genuinely care about their performance and the impact they have on those around them.

Effective leaders are keenly aware of the difference and work to elevate people to take personal responsibility, regardless of how they come to the table. They know that some people don’t know how to take personal responsibility, but believe that they can be taught. In fact, this is how a leader can hold someone to account not only for their performance and actions, but also for being the best they can be.

What is the impact of forgiveness on your relationships?

It is important to note that forgiveness for the past does not necessarily mean trust is completely restored. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It’s often prudent to require that trust be earned again.

The bottom line is there are 3 things leaders need to know about forgiveness:

  1. A leader’s capacity for forgiveness directly affects their effectiveness with those they lead. Why? Because unless  people know forgiveness is possible with you, they will not tell you the truth when you most need to hear it.
  2. Forgiveness is only part of the equation. Redemption is the other. People need to know there is a path to redemption when they falter. It’s not just about getting back in the good graces of a leader. Redemption is as much about helping those you lead to restore their integrity with you as it is with themselves.
  3. Forgiving people sets you and them free. Offering a clear path to redemption gives you the opportunity to regain your trust in them and–perhaps just as importantly–gives people a path to regain their trust in themselves.

One final thought…

As a leadership coach I am often asked if can trust be restored once it is broken. It’s probably not surprising that my answer is a resounding yes. In fact, I will suggest that when leaders offer forgiveness and a pathway to redemption they can build a bond of trust that is stronger than that of a relationship untested.

How do you handle forgiveness with those you lead?


Enter A Comment

Randy Conley   |   31 May 2016   |   Reply

Excellent thoughts Susan and I agree with you. Trust can be much stronger than people give it credit for and restored relationships often experience higher levels of trust than before.

Take care,


Susan Mazza   |   06 June 2016   |   Reply

Good to hear the view of an expert in trust Randy!