Mohandas Gandhi famously said,  "An eye for an eye ends in making everyone blind."

As with many other "goodness" attributes, forgiveness is a key tool for business success.  To quote Shake Shack CEO Danny Meyer,  "It is in my self-interest to be good."

Fred Kiel, co-CEO of KRW International, would certainly agree with Meyer.  He wrote an interesting book in 2015 titled Return On Character:  The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win.  It's a well-researched and convincing argument that high leadership character ratings are predictably correlated with higher profitability performance by CEOs and the companies they lead.  His study shows a measurable relationship between CEO character and performance.  Says Kiel, "I was unprepared to discover how robust the connection really is."

Kiel rates executive character on the basis of four moral principles:  integrity, responsibility, compassion, and forgiveness.  Kiel's researchers discovered that CEOs with high character ratings had an average return on assets of 9.35% over a two year period, which was a five times higher return on assets than what CEOs of low character leadership companies had (1.93%).

It is an interesting study and well worth perusing.  However, what really caught my eye was Kiel's inclusion of the quality of forgiveness as a key measure of corporate character.

Manfred Kets de Vries, Dutch psychologist and Professor of leadership development and change at INSEAD, has written extensively about the importance of forgiveness as a tool of ROI.  In his article "The Art of Forgiveness:  Differentiating Transformational Leaders", Kets de Vries avers "Truly transformational leaders are acutely aware of the cost of animosity.  They realize the havoc that can be created by an unforgiving attitude...Holding grudges is a form of arrested development:  it holds people back." (https://knowledge.insead.edu)

There is a certain macho assumption in the still extant, but slowly retreating, command-and-control approach to management, which posits the usefulness of fear in pursuit of ROI efficacy.

In fact, fear stifles productivity and has important consequences for the bottom line.  Companies can become like gulags.  When people are anxious, there's a lot of paranoia and "what should be remembered is that people who don't make mistakes don't do anything  They're too busy covering their backs.  They're not going to try anything new."  Dr. Kets de Vries advocates a "forgiveness culture" and cites the contrast between the results of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and the recently deposed Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as a prime example of his thesis.

"When you fly over Zimbabwe you see a wasteland, when you fly over South Africa you see something very different:  two leaders with very different attitudes towards forgiveness. If I ask my class which political leader do you most admire, 95% say Nelson Mandela. When you ask why, the answer is forgiveness."

At the end of South African apartheid and after 27 years in prison, Mr. Mandela forgave his oppressors and encouraged many of his party's members who clamored for revenge to do likewise, telling them:  "Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear.  That's why it's such a powerful weapon."

In comparison Robert Mugabe opted for bitterness, vindictiveness and hatred against white Zimbabweans and the nation's black citizens who opposed him.  By encouraging supporters to forcibly occupy white-owned commercial farms, Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of southern Africa, became the poor house.  Under his rule, unemployment rose to between 70% to 80%, life expectancy fell. In mid-November 2008, Zimbabwe's peak month of inflation was estimated at 6.5 sextillion per cent--making the national currency basically useless.  A "clean-up campaign" targeting the slums where his most hardened opponents resided left 200,000 homeless.

So don't look for revenge.  It's not the practical thing to do.  Look for success.

As Shakespeare contemporary English clergyman and metaphysical poet George Herbert put it,  "Living well is the best revenge."  Thank you, George.

Published on: Dec 18, 2017
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