You give a lot of yourself in order to develop those on your team. You’ve taken some hits for them, provided cover for them, and you have also shown them a lot of loyalty. You take leading your team seriously.
So what happens when a team member betrays you? What happens when you realize that the loyalty you thought was mutual isn’t there?
If you are not careful, you might start to over-lead with self-protection. That is, you can protect yourself from being hurt again by giving less of yourself to your team. Without realizing it, your passion, drive, and even desire to make an impact through your team can be crippled.
In order to do your best and develop a high performing team, you need to be fully engaged, willing to risk betrayal for the sake of developing others.
If you find yourself being too defensive or self-protective, and you can see that part of the reason was a betrayal, you need to learn to forgive.
What purpose does forgiveness serve?
Forgiveness satisfies the debt that the offense created. If you can forgive the offense, you will stop thinking about it. You will function out of a sense of wholeness and peace, not out of the sense of loss that the offense generated. You will see yourself become stronger than you’ve ever been, and more resilient than you thought you could be.
However, the sad reality is that most of us don’t really know what forgiveness means, much less know how to forgive.
What do you believe would happen if you fully forgave the one who hurt you? Some believe that a part of forgiving is to treat the offense as if it did not matter. Others believe that if they forgive, they have to be close to the person they forgave. Some believe that if they forgive, they are actually enabling the other person to continue to repeat the behaviors that caused so much damage. What if I told you that none of those things is what forgiveness is about?
According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ to forgive is:
1a : to give up resentment of or claim to requital for
1b : to grant relief from payment of
2: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : pardon
Notice that forgiveness has nothing to do with reconciliation. Notice that it doesn’t even have to do with whether or not the offender has changed, whether or not they have asked you for forgiveness, or if they even want it. In fact, the offender does not even need to be part of the process.
- Forgiveness is not saying that what the offender did is okay.
- Forgiveness is about you being free from the burden of the offense. It prevents more from being stolen from you than what the offensive act(s) already stole.
- Forgiveness prevents you from closing off your heart and not letting anything in. When you close off your heart, not even good can come in.
- Forgiveness prevents bitterness and a life that is utterly unfulfilling and frustrating.
Eventually, those who do not forgive isolate themselves as they perceive that more and more people are like their offender, and systematically remove them all from their lives.
But how do you forgive?
First, you need to know what you are forgiving. There is going to be a part that is obvious. For example, one of your directs, whom you poured yourself into, took a job with a competitor. There are also going to be parts that are not as obvious. For example, you feel used and discarded. You need to know both the obvious and the not-so-obvious parts.
Once you know what you need to forgive, we can use one of the following six options or a combination of them. Each one requires that you really chew, or thoroughly think it through, if it is going to help you fully forgive:
1) We can choose to pay down the debt ourselves. When we have not forgiven someone, our hearts often look for ways to get justice that are not appropriate. One way could be gossiping about the offender. Another could be just thinking about the offender in negative ways.
When we actively choose not to pursue inappropriate justice, it diminishes our feelings of vengeance.
The more we make that choice, the more we pay down the debt the offense created.
Eventually, we won’t even seek the inappropriate justice because forgiveness has happened.
2) Chew on what it would be like to have forgiven the offender. Dream here. Ask yourself questions like:
- What would your life look like if I forgave the offender?
- What would I think about instead of dwelling on the bitter scenes that come into my head?
- What would my energy level be like if I released myself from the burden of carrying un-forgiveness?
- What would my moods be like?
The more details you give to the answers to those questions, the more you will desire to forgive. The more you desire to forgive, the more likely you are to forgive.
3) Recognize that, in some cases, the offense is so big that no amount of justice can satisfy it. When the offense is great, nothing the offender can do will ever make up the loss created. Furthermore, if the offense is great, no amount of vindictive actions on our part will assuage the injustice we feel.
So even if the person spent an entire lifetime trying to make it up, and we spent our entire lifetime being as vindictive as we could be, at the end of life we would feel like we had not begun to mitigate the offense. We would die bitter old people.
The more we chew on that, the more we will sense that our lack of forgiveness is a trap. Therefore, in order to keep ourselves from being trapped, we forgive.
4) Need to make the offender an equal. By refusing to forgive someone, we make ourselves a judge over that person. It leads to a one-up/one-down relationship.
The one-up/one-down relationship leads us to believe that we have the right to judge them, and so we don’t pursue forgiveness.
If, however, we note that there is something in our hearts that, if left unchecked, could cause damage comparable to the damage that was done against us, and if we “chew” by thinking through the logical implications of that, we start to see that the offender is not that much different from us.
It is easier to forgive someone who is “just like us” than someone who is beneath us.
5) Repeat to yourself in many different ways that you forgive the offender. Sometimes we need to say we forgive in different ways for the forgiveness to be released at a heart level. “I forgive Jim.” “I release myself from pursuing the justice I deserve from Jim.” “I choose to no longer try to make Jim pay for what he did to me.”
6) Write a forgiveness letter to the offender (you can choose to mail it or not). First take some time to understand your offender. What led them to do what they did against you?
Doing this will not minimize the harm they have done to you. Nor will it lead to excusing what they did. Instead, it will start to humanize the person.
Writing a letter in which you 1) express all the harm done to you, 2) attempt to understand what may have led to it, and 3) clearly declare that you hold nothing against the offender, can be cathartic and lead to forgiveness.
Some people choose to mail the letter, some save it, some decide to burn it.
I wish we could all forgive as easily as little kids seem to, but we can’t. Know that forgiveness is going to be a process.
You know that you are done forgiving when you can think about it and it no longer feels raw. I know that I have forgiven someone when I no longer randomly have an argument in my head with them.
Forgiveness brings about freedom. It helps you to fully engage your team and do the work that you are best at, with joy.
Chew On This:
- What would your leadership be like if you fully forgave?
Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.