As children, we’re always told that forgiveness is a good thing, and the ability to forgive is bestowed as a positive character trait to possess. Whilst that’s nearly always true of life in general, how often is it displayed in the workplace? Is the art of reconsiliation a key facet of strong leadership?
That’s the hypothesis put forward by INSEAD professor Manfred Kets de Fries.
“Truly transformational leaders are acutely aware of the cost of animosity,” he says. “They realise the havoc that can be created by an unforgiving attitude… holding grudges is a form of arrested development; it holds people back.”
“Many organisations today are like gulags. People are anxious, there’s a lot of paranoia. [But] what should be remembered is that people who don’t make any mistakes don’t do anything. They’re too busy covering their backs. They’re not going to try anything new.”
It’s a strong thesis. I’m not keen on the apparent acceptance of failure, but if failure is to work then it requires strong and candid feedback so that mistakes are learnt from. If politics is strong then that feedback often doesn’t occur. de Fries explains his theory in more detail in the video below. Well worth a watch if you have a few minutes. If you want a longer exploration of his theory, you can get it in this paper.