“Many organisations today are like gulags. People are anxious, there’s a lot of paranoia. [But] what should be remembered is that people who don’t make any mistakes don’t do anything. They’re too busy covering their backs. They’re not going to try anything new.” Manfred Kets De Vries writes in a recent article that looks at how his work has led him to view the art of forgiveness as a key attribute of transformational leaders.
What stands between an organisation being experienced as a fun and inspiring place to work where risks can be taken and mistakes will be forgiven rather than the Gulag described above where paranoia and anxiety are rampant? It simply is down to how leaders think, feel, and act. Manfred suggests that if we look at the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu we can see the power of forgiveness in shaping successful transformational change.
Great leaders like them are highly skilled in self awareness and self management; they can recognise the emotions that are arising and choose how to respond in the way that will get the best outcome for the organisation and the individual. That appropriate response is unlikely be launching into a blame game that focuses on prosecution and recrimination. Instead they will choose to focus on forgiving and letting go to open up the opportunity for change.
It’s perhaps unlikely that Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu were quite so wise in their twenties, and it’s more probable that their time in prison or under house arrest offered opportunities for self reflection and learning, and a deep insight into just how unproductive a lack of forgiveness can be. So how does one become a more forgiving leader; step one, is recognising and managing your emotions to create the possibility of choice in how you respond, step two is then using your empathy to look at the situation from the other party’s perspective, and to attempt to walk in their shoes. Perhaps by considering: what led to certain things happening? what was that person’s intention? how might my behaviour have contributed to this outcome?
None of this is impossible for most leaders, and the required skills can be developed by self reflection and learning, or perhaps more effectively by working with a coach and seeking feedback. You can start now by asking yourself:
– how would my team describe my approach to handling mistakes?
– what can I do to shape a culture where mistakes are forgiven and we simply learn, let it go, and move forward?