When Do We Forgive?


A post a while back on whether there is a shortage of good leaders fostered some interesting comments, tweets and private conversations – most of which confirmed that the majority of individuals feel that we’re suffering a deficiency in this arena. I’ve thought about the responses ever since that post was published.

I feel like the lone holdout; I believe there are plenty of good leaders out there, but our brains, hearts, and our media are wired to look for “what’s wrong” (and I’m sticking with that opinion!).

I’ve considered the feedback from stakeholders of the client-leaders I’ve worked with (managers, peers, employees and others) and remembered what I tell them in the deep dark middle of our work on the behavior changes they set about making (based on that feedback). I tell them that it will be hard; that they will want to stop and go back to what they did before because it’s easier (but less effective).

I tell my client-leaders that they have to be patient in their expectations of results from their behavior changes because those around them can be very critical and will continue to see them the old way for longer than they can imagine. This is one of the hardest things for a leader to realize – that all of this change they are making takes time for others to see and acknowledge.

We are all stakeholders in someone’s leadership, and we are all human. We don’t have a switch to flip in our minds and our hearts that allows us to quickly recognize the changes (for the better) that a leader makes. We continue to hold onto what our past experiences have told us about that leader until it becomes impossible to ignore. We are tough on our leaders for their minor flaws, and we don’t forget them, nor do we forgive them.

At what point can we:

  • Forgive the human behaviors in our leaders that we have judged as unchangeable?
  • Forgive the actions in our leaders that color our opinions in such a way as to attribute them to “who they are” rather than “what they did”?
  • See our leaders as imperfectly human and capable of making mistakes in the same ways that we see ourselves?
  • See beyond the behaviors we’ve judged as “just the way they are” to also see the good as part of their whole selves?

And so I encourage you to see the good in a leader you’ve judged harshly. Forgive them when they fail and do what you can to help them do better the next time. Support them in making the changes they need to make to be a new, improved leader. Encourage them by letting them know what you see in them that is noble, good, lasting, moral, and worthy of praise. Tell others what you observe, even when they see something different.

Because, you see, that when you do these things, you will become a leader in your own right.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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