learn to lead by following

Three Words Few Talk About in Leadership, Part 3

March 12, 2020
Three words seldom spoken about in leadership studies, conferences, and blogs are:

Followers,
Fitness, and
Forgiveness (1)

I have already addressed the first two and have briefly demonstrated their importance and essential requirements to biblical servant leadership. In my last blog, I addressed Fitness. In Part 3, I would like to speak to Forgiveness.

In his book, The Softer Side of Leadership, Eugene Habecker commits an entire chapter to what he calls “Embrace the Power of Forgiveness.” He begins by quoting Walter Wright:

This [forgiveness] may well be the crisis of leadership today. I am becoming increasingly convinced that there can be no leadership without forgiveness. Leadership requires forgiveness and forgiveness nurtures leadership. (2)

Every leader has known the sting and outright emotional damage from those he or she leads. No leader is immune from criticism for missteps, poor judgment, bad decisions, and the opposing preferences of those he or she seeks to serve. It is hard to forgive those who attack you and who may even mount a charge to remove you from your position of leadership. 

The leader’s options are many, but here are a few:

  • Retaliate with use of your power and authority on those who spoke or acted against you by removing or demoting the offender;
  • Ignore the offense and carry the hurt with you, acting like you are impervious to such actions/word;
  • File the offense and offender away until you can return the favor in a public setting, demonstrating the offender was wrong to say/do such a thing toward you;
  • Or, you can forgive the offender and move on with the mission with which you have been entrusted.

I admit the first three responses were easy to post because they are natural responses to those who hurt us. The last option is not natural but is essential to a servant leader who is a follower of Jesus. 

To forgive is not to forget but to address the offender in a healthy, Christ-like manner. Habecker proposes what he calls, “the forgiveness cycle…confrontation, forgiveness, restoration, and restitution,” and I recommend you follow his wise directions. (3)

For the servant leader who seeks to lead as Jesus led, forgiveness is a and act of grace, not a tool in the toolbox of leadership. Forgiveness is the demonstration of being forgiven, and those who lead like Jesus exhibit their non-deserved forgiveness by God in their leadership relationships. 

Here are some practical ways to demonstrate forgiveness in the workplace. As the leader you not only set the example but you may oversee forgiveness between those you lead. 

  • Acknowledge the wrong. Be honest about the violation. Don’t ignore or suppress what has happened. Speak truth. Be the light that shines in the darkness. 
  • Recognize justice related to the offense. Stated consequences in organizational policy are not to be ignored. Clear consequences established before the offending behavior or words is essential for genuine justice to occur. Justice is required for the offense, but is not always carried out. This is where leadership matters.
  • Forgive the offender with humility. Forgive face-to-face if possible. Jesus did not email us our notification of forgiveness. He gave his life for us. To forgive is not an opportunity to show how magnanimous you are as the leader. As an apprentice of Jesus, you forgive as Jesus forgave you. Forgiveness does not always remove the consequences of the offense but it does lay the groundwork for restoring relationships.
  • Seek reconciliation. Restoration is the goal of forgiveness. Reconciliation is the biblical concept, which God sought for us in Christ Jesus. (See 2 Cor. 5:17-19) Proactive steps to restore the offender and to reconcile a relationship demonstrate the servant leader’s relationship with his or her Leader, Jesus. 
  • Move on. A servant leader who loves like Jesus does not “keep a record of wrongs.” (1 Cor. 13:5) Yes, follow HR’s policies on grievances and complaints, but personally let the offense go and continue to mission God has called you to complete. 

How you forgive as the leader and as a follower of Jesus may be your most powerful witness in the workplace. Embrace the offenses that will come your way as the leader. See them, as an opportunity to give witness to the forgiveness for your offense to God demonstrated by Jesus, the Christ.

 

(1)  I am grateful to Dr. Gene Habecker who in his book, The Softer Side of Leadership: Essential Soft Skills That Transform Leaders and the People They Lead (Sisters, OR: Deep River Books, 2018), has included these important concepts in his insights on leadership.

(2)  Habecker, 171; Also, see Walter C. Wright, Relational Leadership (Cumbrian, CA: Paternoster Press, 2000).

(3)  Habecker, 175-188.

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