October 23, 2012 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Leadership
The Tao of Leadership: The Importance of Forgiveness
By James Grinnell
It seems the modern workplace has a pervasive bias against nurturing and compassionate emotional displays such as forgiveness. This is unfortunate because organizational life is rife with strife, which left unresolved becomes a festering drag on performance. As Aquino, Grover, Goldman, and Folger elaborate (in their article When push doesn’t come to shove: Interpersonal forgiveness in workplace relationships): “An organization is a melee of relationships alternating between firm and sound, unconnected, sordid, broken and angry, and changing. The quality of healing broken and changing relationships should profoundly influence how well an organization functions as well as the nature of work life within organizations.”
Forgiveness involves jettisoning feelings of resentment and hostility resulting from a wrong (perceived or real) inflicted upon us. Through forgiveness we allow positivity, compassion, and affirmation to fill the darkened void. In his article Forgiveness in the Workplace, Michael Stone articulately advocates for forgiveness: “Forgiveness gives us an opportunity to use the mistakes, failures, flaws and breakdowns of life as opportunities to awaken greater wisdom, compassion and capability in our co- workers and ourselves… We can create greater internal harmony and healing by practicing the art of forgiveness, by using failures and unwanted situations to develop a culture of compassion and understanding, a place where people feel safe to express fully their natural genius and creativity, a place where they feel appreciated and experience a sense of joy and meaning from their work.”
Forgiveness holds several positive consequences in the workplace. First, forgiveness builds loyalty and altruism. Think about the times in your life when you have been truly forgiven. My guess is that your respect for the other person took a quantum leap. You’d stick with them through thick and thin, because they did the same for you. Second, forgiveness increases productivity. When one feels unforgiven, they perceive themselves as operating under a microscope. They worry more about compensating for past wrongs or avoiding future transgressions than they do about the task at hand. The moment they feel forgiven, a pent-up torrent of motivation and productivity is unleashed. Third, forgiveness creates a future orientation. Related to the preceding point, forgiveness redirects (the recipient’s) attention away from understanding and reconciling the past. As a result, they can look to the future with a sense of confidence that they have a supportive leader accompanying them on their journey. Finally, forgiveness promotes accountability. Individuals are more likely to be transparent when they operate in a forgiving relationship. Put slightly differently, they are less compelled to obfuscate mistakes, transgressions and wrongdoings.
Forgiveness is not easy. You can’t access the moral high ground of forgiving without fully committing to jumping off the boggy terrain of hurt and hostility. With true forgiveness the stains of past events are reconciled and no longer overshadow the relationship. Another way of thinking of forgiveness is that it replaces a negative with a positive. Mark Twain aptly characterized this sentiment when he stated: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
James Grinnell is an Associate Professor of Management at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Studies from the University of Massachusetts. His areas of focus include leadership, organizational change & development, high-performance teams, and strategic management. You can read more from James on his blog.
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