A Leader’s Forgiveness; The 4 Keys to Forgiving Employees & Coworkers… Being Empathic but not Soft!

Forgiveness as a part of Leadership? You better believe it! If you’re in a professional position of leadership, I’m sure you’ve experienced employees making mistakes… mistakes you had to answer for and/or clean up, employees making the same mistake for the fifth time in a row, perhaps an employee challenged your idea or called you out in public or privately in an unprofessional tone, I could go on but you get the point! Leaders don’t operate off their emotion-of-the-minute and cannot fire everyone that jumps on their last nerve or there may be no one left… not to mention there’s usually quite the policy to follow before letting people go. Therefore, forgiveness matters! There’s also another side, at times, as an employee (whether front-line or as management) being forgiven by a Higher-Up will be appreciated and sometimes career-impacting!

I’ve been on both sides, the leader that did the forgiving and the employee that appreciated forgiveness. Once, as a newly promoted leader, an employee on my team raised her voice, yelled at me, said something I can’t even recall, and stormed down the hallway. What did I do in all of my “leadership rookieness”? You got it… followed her down the hall… Ugh!!! Another time, I was in a leadership position, and lost my cool on my boss… did I mention in the middle of the hallway with everyone witnessing? I worked in a Mental Health Facility, was on the mend from a recent surgery, was asked to monitor the hallway, shared my concerns due to my health and the status of the building’s climate, finally agreed, got into a physical restraint, was reinjured, and simply lost it! In both cases, FORGIVENESS would have helped me and benefited me. So, how to Forgive like a leader; while being empathic but not soft?

Share with Your People!

As a leader, it’s imperative to know there will be great times to celebrate and low times that grind your gears. In the low times… who do you got to? Who do you vent to?  Who are “Your People”? These are the individual whose opinion you value, the people you trust with sensitive information but also who challenge you, are future-focused, and don’t Bobblehead you… you know, the act of nodding their head up and down, constantly telling you how right you are, what they would do, only to send you back more righteously wrong to handle a situation.

“Your People” may be a professional mentor, a Leadership/Executive Coach, a leader within your organization, a friend, your mom, dad, sibling, your pastor, etc. Whoever they are, be sure they are challenging you to see all sides and challenging you to do the right thing… not the emotion-of-the-minute thing! Who are “Your People”?

Understanding Your Offender

This can be difficult as a leader; as it involves stripping off your armor of authority! With all the power you can potentially abuse from tone of voice, sharp emails, blackballing, write-up procedures, firing, etc… it can become easy to make rash decisions instead of making time and taking time to understand your offender…. What were they right about? I’m not suggesting we don’t address the tone in which it was said, when it was said, or where something is said. That’s coming in Key 3… however, I do suggest we explore validity. What the heck were they right about? Why would someone who typically does a great or good job behave this way?

In the examples I shared in the beginning… why would my employee yell at me and storm off? The truth is, we were coworkers before I was promoted and back then my personal leadership was not the best. I was promoted, like many, for my skills… not my ability to lead a team. We were very different people and I did a poor job appreciating her skill set and prefacing my vision, expectations, and guardrails upon my promotion. After the outburst we were able to make up… a bit, Lol! Oddly enough, she became my Go-To-Person and also the person I speak the most about in my Trainings as I learned a few extraordinary skills and still apply them to this day!

In the second example, me losing it on my boss in the middle of a crowded hallway. I remember returning to work and us having a long talk. I apologized for the blow-up… and he said, given the situation, he understood… and agreed. This didn’t fix everything; as I was truly burnt out by that point. However, it allowed me to see him as human, as a person, as someone doing their best, and someone capable of understanding.

Understanding Your Offender’s “Why” doesn’t mean you agree with their actions. It does mean we’re leader enough and emotionally mature enough to understand what would drive a person to act a certain way. In my former career as a Mental Health Therapist, I not only worked with those that were victimized, but also the offenders. I didn’t condone or agree with any of their behaviors. However, when you’re afforded an opportunity to listen, understand, and not judge… it’s amazing what you are able to hear, what people have been through or are going through, and what led them to certain acts. As mentioned, this is empathic leadership… not soft leadership… and because you forgive doesn’t mean it comes without consequences or boundaries!


Unfortunately, many people that are forgiven expect things to go back to exactly the way it was before the incident. That may happen in some instances, however it’s more likely it’s now time to set some boundaries! Perhaps it’s reminding employees of existing rules and expectations, adjusting the rules and expectations, or creating new ones. Either way, as a leader, it’s time for a tough conversation and it’s important you have it in a confident and non-apologetic manner!

You may schedule a meeting with the employee, which may sound something like, “Thanks for making the time to come in. I thought a lot about what happened, what you were right about, and possible ways we can move forward. I heard you say ____________ and I thought you had a great point about ______________. What do you like about being here and what would you fine-tune about ________________. There were some positives about this, however, we, you, I, and as a team cannot move forward with outbursts like that. In the future, when you have something to say, challenge, or question let’s do it like this____________ (pull me to the side, ask to meet and set up a time, bring it up in the scheduled meeting or our 1-on-1’s with a suggested solution, etc.) ________________.”.

The point is to allow challenge and confrontation, but not blow-ups! Do you know how you prefer to be challenged or have things point out to you? If so, share it with your team and give them the blueprint! If not, think about it and share it; allowing you to enhance your Leadership & Work/Life Harmony… and theirs!

Everything is easier said than done and this will work beautifully sometimes and not so great due to someone being burnt-out, bored-out, hurt, personal things in their own lives, or one of the million other reasons out there. The point is to be able to put your head on your pillow in peace; knowing you did things the right way and like the leader your people and organization needs!

Let Go

This can be two-fold. After you’ve worked the process of forgiveness… letting go of the emotion, not the lesson, of the incident may take time and effort. Will you still engage with the person that offended you? Will you still listen to them, protect them, impact and influence them, know their dreams, and help them towards it? That’s leadership!

The other part of “Letting Go” means, when the non-productive, non-passionate, non-positive behavior continues… are you leader enough to have the tough conversation and/or let them go? After my incident of exploding on my boss… we were better, however I was still done. I was offered a transfer to a new facility that fit who I’d become professionally and where I wanted to go professionally. I initially took it as a slap in the face; as I helped to build the program and it was my baby. However, my baby had grown up and it was time for the next phase of my life… and it was a great step in the right direction!

On a personal note, this same process works in our personal relationships with our significant others, family, and friends. Once I learned forgiveness is a choice… and a process… it help transform me and my relationships! You don’t have to forgive; as long as you’re OK with things staying how they are or getting worse. Forgiveness also doesn’t start with or end with “Letting Things Go”. It’s a process to work through or you can jump around in. I hope this helps you professionally and personally… as forgiveness is a part of leadership rarely discussed. Enjoy your EVOLUTION!!!

“Understanding Your Offender’s “Why” doesn’t mean you agree with their actions. It does mean we’re leader enough and emotionally mature enough to understand what would drive a person to act a certain way… and if you do choose to forgive, it doesn’t mean your forgiveness comes without consequences or boundaries!”   – Andre Young

Written by: Andre Young

Click www.youevolvingnow.com to connect, chat, and to find out more about Andre Young’s Leadership & Work/Life Harmony Trainings, Speaking Engagements, Books, and more; evolving your organization, your leaders, employees, and teams!

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