Leaders Need to Lighten Up - On Themselves!

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to forgive someone else for their mistakes than to forgive yourself for yours?  You’d probably never beat up on a colleague for double-booking meetings or a friend for running out of gas.  But if you did either of those things, boy, you’d hear about it.  Incessantly.  Your mental iPod would be blasting messages about your pathetic lack of attention to detail or your lousy planning.  

But as a leader - at whatever level - you can’t afford to indulge in that behavior any longer. Surprised that I said indulge?  Think about it for a moment and you’ll see what I mean.  While you’re perfectly willing to recognize that forgiveness can be not only appropriate but also necessary when it comes to forgiving others, you somehow regard yourself as so special that those rules don’t apply to you.  

What’s up with that?  Shouldn’t you get the same consideration as you give everyone else?  If you begin to think of it that way, maybe you can cut yourself some slack and quickly get back on track after a setback. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn from your mistakes. You must. But once you’ve gleaned the lessons, fixed whatever is fixable, stated the appropriate apologies, forgive yourself and get on with it.

Philosophers, theologians and poets have long recognized the importance of forgiveness.  Now, science is beginning to catch up.  Dr. Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, teaches Forgive for Good workshops to help people learn a practical approach to forgiveness. Dr. Luskin has explored the effectiveness of forgiveness therapy in victims of violence in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.  He has since applied his teachings to corporate, medical, health and religious settings with great success.

Dr. Luskin’s research, and that of other experts, has shown that forgiveness is a benefit to psychological, relationship and physical health.  By reducing hurt and helplessness and letting go of anger, subjects experience greater self-confidence, hope (if you want more on that, check out my eBook The Hope-Driven Leader) and optimism in their lives.  Isn’t it about time to join the club?

Let’s look at some ways you can forgive yourself and let go of mistakes:

  • Acknowledge the mistake.  If you’ve unintentionally hurt another person, apologize, let the other person know that you didn’t mean to hurt them and that you’d like their forgiveness. If they can forgive you, why can’t you forgive you?  And if they can’t, what does that tell you about your relationship?
  • Absorb the lesson.  Give yourself a debriefing period after every major project or effort you undertake.  If you didn’t make any mistakes, you may not be setting the bar high enough.  And if you did make mistakes, learn to appreciate them as fabulous teaching tools.  Lucky you!
  • Stop the constant judging.  If you’re continually looking for approval at the office, or stepping on the bathroom scale, you’re trying too hard.  Set your goal, stick to your plan and stop being so judgmental. 
  • Be specific about what you’re forgiving.  If you have a generalized sense of your flaws, faults and shortcomings, it’s nearly impossible to put that to rest.  Drill down, figure out specifically what requires your self-forgiveness, then focus your forgiving on that.
  • Change the internal tape.  Let go of the inner chatter about how you screwed things up, resist the urge to repeat the story endlessly to your friends or co-workers (women, I'm talking to you!) and change the tape in your head from negative screw-up to positive opportunity for growth!