Effective Leaders use Forgiveness as a unique Business Tool

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Does forgiveness exist in the workplace in today’s highly disrupted and fast changing world? CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, Nicholas Goh, offers a tip sheet on how forgiveness can be a powerful business tool.

Amongst the many challenges facing leaders today is the war on talent, and developing transformational leaders to drive innovation and growth for their business. Does forgiveness exist in the workplace in today’s highly disrupted and fast changing world?

Would a business truly benefit from having an authentic culture of forgiveness modeled by leaders and in turn reap the benefits of higher employee engagement, higher productivity and higher profits?

CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, Nicholas Goh, offers his insights on why and how forgiveness can be a powerful business tool.

Forgiveness is a human virtue. In many of our interpersonal relationships, most of us often forgive others for offences, snubs or distresses. Similarly, most religious beliefs also commend acts of forgiveness.

1. Forgiveness seems to be a much under-valued leadership attribute in the workplace. Not only is it not often discussed, but at times, it could be misconstrued as a weakness to forgive. A leader could be perceived as being “weak” or compromising on his work ethics and quality standards when he chooses to forgive.

In the fast-paced society we live in, the ability to forgive mistakes, wrongdoings, or misunderstandings, is a strength that a truly transformational leader should imbue.

In companies where if one makes a mistake and one knows if one is going to be fired, there is a culture of fear, and uncertainty which stifles productivity and innovation.

“Leaders who can tolerate mistakes, see that as learning opportunities, are those who build great corporate culture. Employees will appreciate that there is authentic forgiveness practised by leaders, and that there are avenues for them to be creative, to learn, and hone their own leadership skills,” says Verztec CEO, Mr Goh.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s former President, comes to mind as an excellent example. Despite being wrongfully accused and imprisoned for 27 years, upon his release from prison and the end of Apartheid, he forgave his oppressors. He rallied his party members to abandon any plans for revenge, but to follow in his footsteps of forgiveness.

A poignant quote from Mandela demonstrates the power of forgiveness:
“Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”

In contrast, Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe since 1987, remains a controversial and divisive political figure today. He perpetuated anti-white racial discrimination, and oppressed his own native black political opponents.

He chose bitterness, revenge and hatred against his offenders, leading to his country’s gross economic mismanagement, corruption, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

2. Forgiveness has Transformative Power when it comes to Business. Today, enterprises across the globe are confronted by the next wave of massive change, dubbed “Industrial Revolution 4.0”. Business models are being transformed through digitalization and the use of new, powerful IT technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. The war on talent rages on.

One's ability to innovate and transform one's businesses is ever so important. And forgiveness and leadership will have a deep impact on how companies can drive innovation to create better products and services to serve customers.

3. For innovation to take place, employees must be given the room to make mistakes, while leaders are challenged to demonstrate forgiveness.

In fact, forgiveness at work can be a powerful business tool.

It can help improve employee engagement, increase productivity and enable innovation to thrive. A corporate culture that promotes forgiveness, modeled by leaders, not only humanizes the company but enriches the entire employee engagement process. It fosters stronger team collaboration, break down silos and build a greater sense of purpose for employees and the company.

4. Leaders who can forgive are not Weak. They have a gift that demonstrates great strength, humility and courage, to impact a transformational change in their organizations.

According to a research by University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, there are two requirements that great leaders must have in fostering forgiveness:

a. Meaning and Vision: Leaders acknowledge the trauma, harm, and injustice that their organization members might have experienced. They help redefine those occurrences of offences into opportunities to move forward.

b. Legitimacy and Support: Leaders could use other related virtues like compassion, humility and courage to help frame the incidents, encourage true remorse and commitment to restore trust.

5. Next point to look at would be Leadership mistakes and discipline. We must also not forget that even leaders have their fair share of struggling with the ability to forgive themselves.

Great leaders must work hard to forgive themselves. They often struggle to forgive themselves as they carry the weight of every decision on their shoulders.

In her best-selling book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook) dedicates a chapter to “Self-Compassion”. She shares that "self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human. Those who can tap into it recover from hardship faster."

Do we then condone all mistakes every time? Must we forgive everyone without any consequence or discipline?

When employees make mistakes, it's common to try and ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. Thus, we provide feedback, we correct and discipline. In some extenuating circumstances, we fire employees.

However, we must be aware that discipline can sometimes shift the focus off the underlying event, onto the disciplinary action. We can easily dwell on the punishment, and forget the importance of understanding and correcting the action that first led to the discipline.

6. We can all learn to forgive and learn. Employees can also be their own toughest critics. The employee who shipped the wrong product or the one who gave a customer wrong technical advice, resulting in delays or financial loss to the company?

They know they have made a mistake and will typically feel bad or embarrassed. And often, such mistakes will leave an indelible mark in their memory. They would work harder to ensure similar mistakes will not happen again. And that’s an outcome that we really want.

That's why, according to contributing editor of Inc., Jeff Hayden, sometimes “the best thing leaders could do is to simply look our employees in the eye, nod and walk away.”

After all, our goal is that the employee learns from a mistake. Our one act of forgiveness could be one powerful learning of a lifetime. Forgiveness creates a better leader out of us.

About the AUTHOR

Nicholas Goh is the CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading global content consulting company. Verztec assists companies around the world to design, develop, localize and publish their global communication messages and training into over 100 languages.

For more information, please visit http://www.verztec.com and http://www.verzteclearning.com

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