I poorly handled a situation that transpired with another leader who is important to me, and respects, trusts, and looks up to me. My intentions were in the right place, but I did a terrible job of navigating an incident.

I'm quick to forgive others. Through extensive psychotherapy and continuous spiritual practice, I've mastered releasing anger, living from a place of empathy, and accepting that everyone is flawed. However, I often fail to extend myself the same compassion.

To drink my own medicine and turn every challenge into a teachable moment, I sought wisdom from other leaders who have mastered the art and responsibility of forgiveness.

Here's what I've learned.

Forgiveness of Others is a Skill We Can Develop and Strengthen.
Building on her own lifetime experiences with forgiveness, Dr. Shawne Duperon founded the Project Forgive Foundation to teach leaders about the importance of incorporating forgiveness into organizations and leadership.

"Forgiveness is a bold leadership skill," shares Duperon. It is a muscle that we can all strengthen with intentional effort.

"When fostered in business and leadership environments, you cultivate greater loyalty, adventurous creativity, and increased productivity," she added. "Leaders make mistakes all the time. At least the good ones do."

"One of the most courageous acts of leadership is to forgo the temptation to take revenge on those on the other side of an issue or those who opposed the leader's rise to power."

The most important aspect of making mistakes is to own them and learn from them so we don't repeat them. This is how we move forward, rather than staying in the past.

Fostering Organizational Forgiveness is a Complicated Leadership Task.
Conflicts frequently occur in organizations. Great leaders recognize their role in helping others forgive someone who has disappointed them. University of Michigan's Ross School of Business discovered that great leaders fulfill 2 requirements when fostering forgiveness:

  1. They provide meaning and vision. They acknowledge the trauma, harm, and injustice that their organization members have experienced, but they define the occurrence of hurtful events as an opportunity to move forward.
  2. They provide legitimacy and support. Since forgiveness is usually offered with other virtues, the common language used by leaders includes the use of virtuous terms such as forgiveness, compassion, humility, and courage. Public expressions using virtuous language demonstrate true remorse and commitment to the wronged parties, and restore trust that has been compromised.

Self-Forgiveness is Critical to Healing and Growth.
Great leaders work hard to forgive others, and they work hard to foster forgiveness between two other parties.

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 comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human. Those who can tap into it recover from hardship faster," Sandberg shares.

"Self compassion is associated with greater happiness and satisfaction, fewer emotional difficulties, and less anxiety. As psychologist Mark Leary observes, self-compassion can be antidote to the cruelty we sometimes inflict on ourselves.

"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," says Sandberg.

"Forgiving yourself is one of the hardest things to do," says Duperon. "Yet, when you don't forgive yourself, you only perpetuate and relive the damage that's been done."

Here are reminders we should all follow when we're punishing ourselves for a mistake:

  1. It wasn't on purpose. Your intention was not to cause harm. Your error doesn't mean you're a bad person, just a mistaken one.
  2. You've done what you can to fix the situation. Have you taken ownership? Have you acknowledged that you caused harm, 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.

  4. Mistakes are our greatest teachers and catalysts. You will become wiser through the experience, and also by seeking guidance from others on how to rectify your mistake. You will then be able to use your mistake - and your lessons from it - to help others avoid similar mistakes.

  5. You will know better next time. You have definitely learned from your mistake. You can't control anyone else, but you can control how you will handle similar future situations. Mistakes always make us better.

My mistake has been a valuable learning experience, and has made me a better leader. I hope it has benefited you too.