Cultivating Leadership Through Self-Acceptance and Forgiveness

Last week I touched on self-forgiveness as a business owner in terms of moving on after making a mistake. It got me thinking about leaders too and how we can become better leaders through self-acceptance and forgiveness.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is generally defined by psychologists as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they *actually* deserve your forgiveness. That said, forgiveness is not about condoning or forgetting others’ behaviour, rather then, forgiving others gives you the peace of mind to let go of the feelings of sadness/anger/disappointment etc. so they don’t consume you.

Forgiving others

We forgive others all of the time, we recognise that humans are not perfect and that we all mistakes. This is especially true in the workplace, where making the choice to say “it’s OK” when someone in the team makes an error, restores hope and productivity. If we choose not to forgive it creates separation and resentment. This has a significant effect within an organisation where fear can become the driving factor and that’s not good for anyone.

However, sometimes, we withhold forgiveness because we think it means we are accepting or condoning a behaviour.  This is usually comes from a place of judgement and means we aren’t holding people in unconditional positive regard. It means that issues that could easily be resolved become personal and create unnecessary conflict in the workplace.

Forgiving others as a leader helps us be more effective, it builds trust and collaboration with our team. We can build teams with vision, creativity and accountability. That sounds like a good team right?

Self-forgiveness as a leader

So you might be able to forgive others, but what about yourself? We must also look at ourselves and be honest about what we haven’t been able to forgive in ourselves.  This is essential if we are going to forgive others because only when we respect ourselves can we also extend respect to others.  When we make amends and forgive ourselves, we naturally develop compassion and empathy towards others, which is one of the most important components of conscious leadership.

It can seem hard, perhaps to impossible to forgive ourselves as leaders as so often the weight of decisions rests on us. In their best-selling book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant dedicate a chapter to Self-Compassion.

“Self-compassion often coexists with remorse. It does not mean shirking responsibility for our past. It’s about making sure that we don’t beat ourselves up so badly that we damage our future. It helps us realize that doing a bad thing does not make us a bad person,” – Sheryl Sandberg.

We all make mistakes, leaders included. We do it all the time. What counts is how we deal with those mistakes.

Cultivating acceptance and forgiveness in leadership

When you are emotionally beating yourself or others up for making a mistake, remember these three things:

  1. It wasn’t on purpose. The intention was not to cause harm. An error doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, just a mistaken one.
  2. Do what you can to fix the situation. Take ownership,  acknowledge that you made a mistake and acted poorly. Once you’ve done what you can, declare the mistake officially over, even if you’re still addressing consequences.
  3. Maintain perspective. No one accomplishment defines you, and no one mistake defines you.

Remember that we become wiser through the experience. If needed, seek guidance from your tribe on how to rectify your mistake. You can use your mistake – and your lessons from it – to help others avoid similar mistakes. Finally, you can’t control anyone else, but you can control how you will handle similar future situations.

Mistakes always make us better if we choose to reflect and move on.

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