I had a friend call me the other night who is really in a lot of emotional pain. As we talked he asked me a question about commitment. He wanted to know how he could ever be trusted again after breaking an important promise. How would he be perceived by others if they find out he had broken this commitment. He was agonizing over the poor decision that he had made; I could hear in his voice true remorse. He explained to me that sleep did not come easy these days and that his mind really never shut off.
I shared with him the story of the Prodigal Son and how he begged his father to give him his inheritance early so he could go off to the city and make a name for himself. The son ended up squandering the money on prostitutes and high living only to find himself broke and homeless. After some time of begging for food he shamefully went back to his father. The boy thought the father would be disappointed in him, but what he found was a father waiting with open arms who blessed him with fine food to eat and many more gifts. The son had broken his covenant, embarrassed the family name, and yet the father greeted him as if he had never done these things. This was just one example I could think of to try and help my friend understand that we all break our commitments from time to time. I am not proud of the times I have failed, but those times have shaped me into the man I am today. Failure hurts, but what was really eating at my friend was not his broken commitment, it was his need to be forgiven.
Forgiveness can be elusive. It cannot be granted easily from within. Think about it. In those times where you have really done something wrong, as a child or as an adult, it was impossible for you to forgive yourself first. In order to forgive ourselves we must have others forgive us first. I don’t want to get into some big physiological debate, just hear me out. Have you ever gossiped in the office about someone you work with and had them find out? Sure, you might have been joining others in the gossip, but you were the one the person confronted. How did you feel? I can say from experience I felt pretty small. Now there would have been no way that I could have forgiven myself for participating in that type of behavior if the person I was talking about had not forgiven me first.
The culture we create both in our personal lives and in business is a direct reflection of our ability to admit wrong, seek forgiveness, grant forgiveness, and ultimately forgive ourselves. My friend was struggling with how his actions had contributed to the pain he was experiencing. What he wanted to do was go back in time and make those small choices over again. What he wanted to do was to have a second chance. Unfortunately, in this situation that was not going to happen. The culture that this relationship existed in had for many years been one of distrust, self-advancing, and self-preservation. Author Stephen Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” A culture with those values is incapable of second chances and forgiveness.
If you think of this in terms of employee – leadership relations not much is different. If the people you lead distrust you, if they see you as a leader out for his own reward, someone who does not have their back, then you can count on the outcome being a culture of unforgiveness. Forgiving someone requires a person to be vulnerable. It requires a person to accept you at face value and trust that you will not break that commitment again.
I work hard to create a culture of trust. A place where when I fail I am upfront and transparent about it. A lot of times it is this culture of transparency that keeps me from proceeding down a path that could be perceived as self-serving or contrary to what I am saying as a leader (the old adage of walking the talk). If we want our staff to grant us forgiveness when we fail we must be the first to grant forgiveness to others. In the case of my friend; he is on the rocky path of seeking forgiveness by making small, smart choices over time until trust is reestablished. There is no shortcut back to trust. As leaders, let us not forget that commitment, honesty, transparency, and forgiveness has to start with us.
- Do you admit failure?
- Do you forgive others?
- Do you try and look at things from others point of view?
- Do you trust?
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