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Leadership Skills: Forgiveness and Feedback | AboutLeaders.com
Article by Al Gonzalez
June 6, 2012
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Leadership Skils FeedbackDuring retreats and presentations, I often use the story of Rosita and Roberto to illustrate the costly conflict that assumptions can lead to when we don’t have the courage and leadership skills to verify those assumptions or provide honoring feedback to others.

In the story, Rosita assumes that Roberto intentionally left her out of a meeting, and, instead of asking Roberto why he left her out, she tells a co-workers and they start “blasting” him behind his back.  Unbeknownst to them, Roberto is coming down the hallway and things go from bad to worse in a hurry when he hears them talking about him.  Check out the outcome on the following video:

As I said earlier, this story is about assumptions, as Rosita mistakenly assumes that Roberto meant to leave her out of the meeting, but it also raises another key issue.  What happens if Roberto did indeed mean to leave her out?  What if Roberto actually meant to hinder Rosita’s opportunity to contribute to the project?

If you watched the video, you saw that making an assumption as to someone else’s intent and acting on that assumption is not the way to go.  If this is so, what should Rosita do if Roberto left her out of the meeting?

The answer is that she must act as a leader.  Her first step:  forgive.

As Kim Cameron explains in his insightful article, “Leadership Through Organizational Forgiveness,” “forgiveness is not weak, cowardly, or a retreat. It is a gift that requires strength and the ability to create transformational change.”

Rosita must lead the process of organizational change by drawing on her strengths and proactively seek to restore her professional relationship with Roberto.   If Robert left her out intentionally, she should rise above Roberto’s action.  This is the start of possibly the most difficult leadership processes:  forgiveness.  Instead of retaliating, which is the easiest alternative, Rosita must find a way to forgive Roberto in order to have a chance at leading both of them through this difficult situation.

One of the most useful tools I have found to help me forgive others is the Peacemaking Pyramid, as described by The Arbinger Institute in their breakthrough book, The Anatomy of Peace.   The graphic below shows the steps or layers involved in obtaining a “heart at peace,” which is essential to forgiveness.

The Peace Making Pyramid

pyramid

As you can see in the image above, the top of the pyramid shows us that the action Rosita would more than likely want to perform first is to “correct.”  A common reaction by anyone who is intentionally left out by someone else is to correct that behavior and ensure that it does not happen again.  Here is where the pyramid analogy is so powerful.

First, take a look at the amount of space in the pyramid allocated to dealing “with things that are going wrong.” It is the very last step in the peacemaking process and provides only one option:  to correct someone.  Now, notice how much of the pyramid’s space is devoted to “helping things go right.” There are a lot more options and a lot more room to work in!  This is very important when it comes to forgiveness because forgiving someone takes time and help from others.

An important point we learn in The Anatomy of Peace is that we should help things go right by starting at the bottom of the pyramid.  This means getting “out of the box” and obtaining a heart at peace.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece, The Little Prince.  It says:

“One cannot see well except with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

In order to forgive someone that has done us wrong, we must consider essential aspects of that person that are invisible to us unless we obtain a heart at peace.  This will enable us to see the other person with our heart and help us rise above the action that has hurt us.   I know this is not easy, but leadership seldom is.

You may be wondering why I titled this article “Forgiveness and Feedback.” The reason is another important lesson from The Anatomy of Peace.  If we start at the bottom of the pyramid and work our way up, we may find that, in the process of developing the relationship with the individual and others who have influence with the person, feedback may not even be necessary.  I Communicationhave actually experienced this!

If you have tried to deliver feedback to someone you know has done something to hurt you, you know how difficult it is.  While we may go into the feedback discussion with the best intention, we may lose our temper and end up making the problem worse.

What I mean by the title “Forgiveness and Feedback” is that, by forgiving someone, we may be able to avoid one of the most difficult challenges in leading others.  Instead, we focus on  developing an inclusive, respectful and productive relationship with a person who meant to hurt us which can result in no more attacks from that person. If feedback is still needed, going through all the steps of “helping things go right” may make the process of correction a lot easier to manage by enabling us to deliver honoring feedback to the person after the relationship has been nurtured.

Either way, forgiveness will help us lead through this difficult process.

What have your experiences with feedback been like?  Have you tried to forgive others who have hurt you? If so, has it helped?

It’s Your Turn

I am are very interested in your thoughts and ideas! Please comment below.

Al Gonzalez

Al has worked for 16 years helping others maximize the quality of their leadership at Motorola, CBS Sports, and Cornell University. He’s used these experiences to develop proven, trust-based leadership tools for all levels of management.

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