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On Leadership & Forgiveness

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This week on #HealthyLeadership we explored a critical and very difficult leadership trait to master; forgiveness.

It was truly an honor to have been joined by Professor Kim Cameron, an academic expert on the area of forgiveness and leadership.  Professor Cameron serves as associate dean and professor of Management and Organizations in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.  He is a true advocate for the power of forgiveness and its relevance to good leadership.

If you are like me, forgiveness is not something that comes easy, especially when we are dealing with people who insult, exclude, or seek to harm our reputation in one way or another.   During the show, Professor Cameron and I explored what forgiveness is and what it is not.


Professor Cameron explained that to be a strong and mature leader, we need to have the courage to face those who may have done us wrong and present an objective description of the issue. Strong leaders overcome the desire to get even and are able to list the negative consequences because of the action taken against them.  Unbeknown to me, Professor Cameron researched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings in South Africa and has actually visited the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was held.  

Perhaps the most moving portion of our discussion was when Professor Cameron shared the horrid stories of the cruelty and horror that the people in South Africa and Nelson Mandela forgave.  If the story Professor Cameron shares during the show are not the best examples of the strength and leadership it takes to forgive, I don’t know what is.

Strong leaders lead towards a positive outcome by partnering with the other party in preventing the issue from happening again. This way, both parties create a collaborative partnership and a positive future for them AND the organization.  


Easy to say, but very hard to do…

Good leadership requires us to avoid our initial reactions when someone does us wrong.  To lead positive change when dealing with someone who has insulted, excluded or belittled us, we need to drum up the courage to rise above the other action and explain to that person why their behavior is detrimental to the success of the team.  Then, we need to lead the process of leading a negotiation of terms in which we will operate in a positive way.  


Strong leaders don’t hold grudges and set out to get the other person. They develop terms to establish and maintain a good partnership. (Tweet This)

Bullying should never be tolerated

One important item is that forgiveness does not mean we need to tolerate any type of bullying by coworkers or superiors.  If we make the effort to establish a positive relationship with someone who has done us wrong, and that person continues his or her actions, it is time to elevate the issue to HR, the school’s administration, or the authorities in cases of familial or domestic bullying.  

The show concludes with 4 levels of personal maturity that map to our ability to forgive others.  The levels are:

Level 1: I will forgive you only if I or someone else gets you back.  I can forgive you as long as you are punished.

Level 2: I will “forgive” you because it is expected of me.  I will "forgive" because those are the norms.

Level 3. I will forgive if you admit you did wrong and apologize.  Only then will I forgive you.
Level 4. My forgiveness is absent of conditions. I will forgive you because I feel compassion towards you. While I don’t like what you did, I can authentically forgive you, regardless of any circumstance.    

If you are like me, the process of forgiveness is one of the most challenging when it comes to the quality of my leadership.  At what level of personal maturity do you find yourself most often?


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Al Gonzalez

Founding Partner - GIVE Leadership Institute, LLC