Forgive and Forget

As a leader, you’ll understand the need to forgive and forget and the poison that comes from holding a grudge. That is after all, what makes you a leader. The hard part isn’t forgiving. The hard part is forgetting. When it comes down to it, in fact, should you even try to forget?

If you’re a good leader, you’ll be giving your staff lots of leeway to be making mistakes. After all, if they don’t make mistakes, they’re not going to learn anything. It can be quite painful in fact to watch the dunderheaded moves that some people can make. Staying quiet while they screw up is essential to being a good manager as long as the mistake isn’t catastrophic. So to help people learn and grow, you need to let them make mistakes and then you have to forgive them for those mistakes.

But forgetting, I don’t think so. If you did actually manage to forget then you risk someone making a mistake time after time. The key is to remember the mistake a but watch to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. If you do see something happen again and again then you’ll need to step in to make sure it stops finally.

If the issue never arises again then forgetting is also not appropriate as this is great fodder in a performance appraisal of how your direct report has grown and learned.

Try this at work:

Next time one of your direct reports does something totally outlandishly boneheaded, be quick to forgive and make sure your forgiveness is verbal. At the same time though, find some way to keep track in a performance management system of lessons learned so that while you forgive, you can remind them later of lessons that they have learned and how they have grown.

The Man and the Serpent

 A Countryman’s son by accident trod upon a Serpent’s tail, which turned and bit him so that he died.

The father in a rage got his axe, and pursuing the Serpent, cut off part of its tail. So the Serpent in revenge began stinging several of the Farmer’s cattle and caused him severe loss.

Well, the Farmer thought it best to make it up with the Serpent, and brought food and honey to the mouth of its lair, and said to it: “Let’s forget and forgive; perhaps you were right to punish my son, and take vengeance on my cattle, but surely I was right in trying to revenge him; now that we are both satisfied why should not we be friends again?”

“No, no,” said the Serpent; “take away your gifts; you can never forget the death of your son, nor I the loss of my tail.”

Injuries may be forgiven, but not forgotten.


Work, like life, is usually two steps forward and one step back. Your ability to handle the one step back periods is what will define a lot of your success. To get through the setbacks, you’ll need resilience.

Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from setbacks, can be comprised of the following 8 qualities identified by Frederic Flach, MD in his book, “Resilience: How to Bounce Back When the Going Gets Tough” :

  • A sense of hope .
  • The ability to tolerate painful emotions.
  • Seeing other perspectives.
  • Having a support system.
  • Belief that you control your own destiny.
  • A good self-image and self-respect.
  • Self-reflection and insight.
  • A sense of humour and lots of interests.
Of these eight qualities, seven of them take a long time to develop but there is one that is easy to put in practice right away. That is perspective. Being able to see things from multiple perspectives will make you see that what you are going through isn’t all that bad.

Try this at work:

The next time you have a setback at work and find that you are feeling sorry for yourself then try seeing your situation from another perspective.

  • First, take your bosses perspective. Chances are that your setback is not all that material to your boss and perhaps it shouldn’t be material to you either.
  • Instead of looking at what went wrong, look at what might have also gone right in that situation, however small.
  • Look at all the other things that are going right in other situations.
  • Look at what you can learn from the setback.
  • Finally look at what happened in relation to your whole life. Is the setback all that important?

Persistence and Perseverance

“Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” – Napoleon Hill

Perseverance works on your own tasks

Great books abound on the subject of persistence and perseverance. Seth Godin’s the Dip was an awakening for me as I am very slow to quit. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers countered my tendency to try to many things and never become a master at any one. Whatever your own demons, if you want to aspire to a position of leadership, you’ll need the perseverance to completely master your existing job and the persistence to keep seeking out new opportunities.

But its more than just persistence and perseverance. You need to know when to persevere and when enough is enough. If you persevere on a task that only involves you, that is great but when you persevere in trying to change other people’s behaviour, others will soon tire of you. To know when to quit, you need emotional intelligence.

But it doesn’t work when trying to change others behaviour

As a manager, your job is to get things done through other people. (Am I repeating myself often enough?) Persisting at changing a direct report’s behaviour when it isn’t bringing results is probably not going to work. In fact if you persevere long enough, you’ll do a great job pissing the other person off and frustrating yourself. So in terms of direct reports, perhaps persistence and perseverance is not always a good thing.

If you’ve tried multiple times to get a direct report to change his/her behaviour and it still isn’t working then it’s time to give up. It’s time to realize that you’ve either hired to wrong person, trained the person ineffectively or supervised them improperly. It has then become your problem, not theirs. Your options are to fire the person, change their job or change your approach. So in spite of everything you hear, there are lots of times when perseverance is the wrong approach.


Try this at work:

Think of someone at work whose behaviour you’ve been trying to change without success. Are things any better than when you started your change management attempts? If things are not any different and you’ve tried more than seven times then it is time for you to give up. Instead, try another approach, perhaps even a workaround.

Calm down

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.”


Staying calm in times of high stress is one of those leadership skills that amazes me. Watching someone react to a high pressure situation in a calm and balanced way is truly inspiring. Maybe I’m impressed because I am naturally excited, prone to get agitated and raise my voice in stressful situations. I know it doesn’t work and it’s a bad habit but I still manage to do it.

The problem with getting excited and not staying calm is that it exacerbates an already highly charged and stressful situation. If you’ve ever been in an emergency room as a patient, you’ll notice that unlike on TV, most staff don’t exhibit any stress. They are calm and measured but fast in everything they do. If they can stay calm when life and death is on the line, why shouldn’t business people be able to stay calm when revenue targets are missed, when customer returns increase or when costs rise unexpectedly. After all, it’s not as if anyone is going to die.

Try this at work:

You’ve probably been told to step back from stressful situations, breather deeply and modulate your voice. Easy to say, not that easy to do. Instead, the next time you find yourself in one of those situations, just imagine the worst thing that can happen.

It’s sort of like imagining the audience naked when you have to give a speech or your boss putting on his dress every morning to take away the jitters. In this case, imagine the worst thing that can happen. Could someone die? Will there be a loss of limbs or other essential body parts? If the answer is yes then by all means become excited but otherwise just think about the long run.

Try to imagine a room full of dead people and body parts that will fill up the room when the situation is over. If you actually take two seconds to try to create that image, it will be enough to make you realize that no matter how stressful the situation is, no one is likely to die or become maimed and that you’re better off remaining calm.




Somebody wet my bed – Taking responsibility

I am told that when I was young, I woke up one morning having wet my bed the night before and ran to my parents and claimed that “Somebody wet my bed.” My son carried on this tradition in a new way. After having done something bad to his older sister, we asked him to apologize. After much frooing and froing his response was “Sorry, Gaga.” The Gaga was his attempt to deflect true responsibility. You might think from these vignettes that I come from a family of shirkers but I think we’ve all been in that boat at some point in time.

Responsibility is a funny thing. We crave it when things are going well, try to deny it when things don’t quite go the way we want, and wait for it to be given to us at work. Responsibility is one of those key leadership skills that separate successful leaders from unsuccessful ones. Taking responsibility early in your career creates advancement opportunities. Trying to deny it when things go bad gets you fired.

Responsibility is Taken. It is never Given

What many people at work don’t understand about responsibility is that it is taken, not given. No one gives you responsibility for getting something done. They might present you with an opportunity to take it but it is up to you to take that responsibility on. They might say that you have been given responsibility but in actual fact, it is up to you whether you take it or not.

Try this at work:

At work, it’s often the little things that go unnoticed and yet it’s the little things that can give customers a bad impression. Your task this week is to find some small way that you can make a difference and take responsibility for that action. It might be straightening up the office, making sure that there are peppermints in a bowl for visitors, or bringing in flowers from time to time. Whatever it is, find one new way to take responsibility for improving your work environment.

As weeks progress, make this a campaign with other people. Get them energized to improve your work environment.

I can’t promise you’ll end up being President for starting this but I’ll guarantee that your effort to take responsibility will be noticed and eventually rewarded.