top of page

Forgiveness: The “X-Factor” For Successful Leadership

This blog was a bit challenging for me to write. Forgiveness is a tough topic. It’s another one of those take a look in the mirror issues that makes me stop and think about my “Forgiveness Quotient.” Am I a forgiving person? Do I have the right understanding of forgiveness? Can I accept forgiveness from others? I hope you will take a step back, as I’m doing, and reflect on these and other questions as you read what I have to say about Forgiveness and Leadership.

So what is “Forgiveness?” What does it mean to “Forgive?” One resource that I first discovered some years ago in Craig Johnson’s text, Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow, is the International Forgiveness Institute. Dr. Robert D. Enright, the Institute’s co-founder, offers his explanation of what the forgiveness process should be:

“When unjustly hurt by another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love; as we give these, we as forgivers realize that the offender does not necessarily have a right to such gifts.”

Dr. Enright also describes what forgiveness is not. It’s not:

  1. Condoning or Excusing Hurtful Behavior

  2. Forgetting the Hurt

  3. Simply Calming Down or Becoming Indifferent About the Hurt

  4. Achieving Reconciliation With the Offender

Note the distinction between his view of forgiving and what is often the more conventional understanding. Enright’s emphasis is on the offended party overcoming or suspending the right of resentment, revenge, and bitterness towards the offender. It is through the capacity of compassion and mercy, to what he refers as “gifts,” that such feelings of resentment and seeking revenge can be suspended.

It means that when you forgive you no longer consider the need of getting your “pound of flesh” from the offender. In other words, you “release” yourself from those feelings and rights and, in doing so, you begin your healing process.

Conversely, when you don’t forgive the offender, you continue to allow yourself to be punished by the anger and resentment you feel towards them. This can cause you to hold on to grudges, perhaps for years, which only harms you, rather than liberating yourself from those feelings of hurt.

So what about Forgiveness as the “X-Factor” in leadership? To begin with, forgiveness, like other topics about which I have written, can be developed. Dr. Shawne Duperon, founder of the Project Forgive Foundation, refers to forgiveness as “…a bold leadership skill. It is a muscle that we can all strengthen with intentional effort.” So, how can we enlarge our capacity to forgive and get better at forgiving?

Back to Robert Enright for some insights on this. Think about and try practicing the following as challenging as it can be at times:

  1. Stop talking negatively about those who have harmed you.

  2. Recognize that everyone has value and is unique by virtue of being human.

  3. Show love rather than anger in small ways–be pleasant to the store employee, don’t honk your horn at that “lousy” driver in front of you, be patient with your parents, hold you tongue when someone snaps at you and upsets you, etc.

  4. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Pride can prevent you from “letting go” and extending mercy.

  5. Be humble and empathetic. These are the vitamins that help develop your forgiveness fitness.

When leaders practice forgiveness for themselves and among co-workers, the following effects on them and the organization are possible, according to Duperon:

  1. It fosters risk-taking and adaptability.

  2. It authentically engages your employees, vendors, and customers.

  3. It helps attract the best talent, especially from millennials.

  4. It creates a higher level of integrity throughout the workplace.

In other studies, organizations that include forgiveness as a cultural value experience increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches. Once again, we see that good human behaviors, such as forgiveness, that are the “right” thing to do (the principle) also produce positive benefits (the practical). That’s a win-win, as they say.

One more important issue–the other side of the coin. It’s good to forgive. What about accepting forgiveness from another? You know, this sort of scenario:

You’re approached by a colleague (or friend, family member, etc.) who has done something you did not like, “Hey, I’m really sorry about what happened. I really made a mistake. I didn’t mean to offend you. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me. I am sincerely sorry. That won’t happen again.”

What would you do? Forgiveness is also having the grace to accept an apology from someone who appears to be genuinely sorry and repentant. In this instance, holding onto a grudge–refusing to accept the apology and “let go” of unforgiving feelings–is the antithesis of a forgiving attitude.

I trust you have done some reflection on and self-assessment of your “Forgiveness Quotient.” Make it your bold leadership skill.

This final quote from Dr. Martin Luther King is a fitting way to conclude:

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Jim Dittmar

professional pic single 4.25.17

James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute, through which he creates and delivers training and development that is transformational. Prior to this Jim founded the award-winning Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program and served as Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies and Director of the M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program until 2015. Should you have any questions, comments or feedback, please contact him at


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page