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The Skill Every Leader Must Master

You can be smart, ambitious and talented, but until you master this ability you will never rise to the top.

There are many qualities necessary in a successful leader. They need to be bright, ambitious and competent communicators. But the most powerful leaders have an uncanny ability to build trust and confidence among their followers. They do this most effectively with one simple skill ... forgiveness.

It's easy to build faith among followers when everyone is doing everything right. But people aren't robots and even the best performers will have moments when they will fail spectacularly. It's at that critical point that true leadership shines. The leader who can forgive and rebuild the trust and confidence of the team is the leader who can overcome any challenge or obstacle.

As I contemplate my own transgressions and my ability to forgive on this, the Jewish Day of Atonement, I will focus on the insights below to help me forgive those who fell short of my expectations. Of course I'll start by forgiving the biggest offender ... myself.

1. Make Admission Easy

There is nothing worse than finding out about a transgression long after it happened. Often the coverup is more detrimental than the original offense, creating future suspicion and distrust. A great leader fosters an atmosphere of openness where followers can safely share their mistakes. Great leaders allow for less-than-perfect human behavior and proactively communicate the benefits of sharing and learning from failures. By creating a consistent and safe process for feedback and evaluation, followers will be comfortable with the uncomfortable aspects of examining areas to improve.

2. Omit the Need for Explanation

No one benefits from a long list of excuses. Sometimes mistakes just happen. There may not be a rational explanation for a transgression and ultimately you shouldn't need one in order to forgive. Great leaders don't focus on pinpointing blame; instead, they help the team grow from the experience. Evaluating circumstances to learn from mistakes has merits but, once the academic study is over, move on to rebuilding trust.

3. Treat Apologies as a Bonus

Is it truly critical to hear those two words every time something goes wrong? So often the words "I'm sorry" sound empty and are easily thrown into the mix without meaning. Great leaders are attentive to their followers' emotions and look for genuine acknowledgement and contrition. They encourage their followers to demonstrate real concern for the well-being of those around them, with or without words.

4. Empower People to Make Amends

Most often, diligent people are hardest on themselves. They know when they have messed up and they will beat themselves up, distracting focus from the important issues that need addressing. Through process and example, great leaders help transgressors find a path to redemption. They prioritize encouragement and resolution so erring followers are motivated to quickly resolve their issues and rebuild mutual trust.

5. Find a Path Forward

No one is best served by harping on failure and mistakes. They need to be examined, learned from and then left behind. Great leaders keep followers focused on the future and make sure everyone reengages in the journey ahead. After a major fail, they use structure, process and communication to help followers move on and strive together for the next success.

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Last updated: Sep 13, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

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