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The Leadership Coaching Group


Oct 16, 2017

Hey guys!  Welcome back to The Leadership Coaching Group podcast. I’m Liz Roney and this is episode #12!! Woo hoo!

Today I want to talk to you about the role of forgiveness in your life.  Leadership often benefits from an amount of clemency whether at home or in the office.

I have worked with a few large organizations that require people to work together even after they have really bumped heads.

It’s not uncommon to see people really struggle to move on from whatever painful experience they have endured and find enough peace to continue working together effectively.

What’s worse, in my mind, is when people become so bitter towards one person that the negativity of un-forgiveness starts to bleed into their perception of groups of people instead of towards individual actions.

I think that it’s been within the past few years that I’ve started to learn how to forgive in a genuine and absolving way.  It’s not easy.  And forgiveness in and of itself does not make pain go away.  And, just to set the stage appropriately, I have a LOT of work to do here.  So much so, that my own personal pain is driving this topic.  I’m an empath and when other people are hurt, I actually feel it.  I won’t pretend that when I feel I’m on the wrong end of a negative interaction that the pain doesn’t feel just a little sharper though.

But why would I talk to a bunch of go-getters who are expressing intentionality toward their careers and their lives about something as squishy as forgiveness?

Well, because for one, it’s not squishy.  It’s arduous and exacting before it’s 2nd nature. 

And also because we will always be working with people.  At a minimum, that will include ourselves.  More likely, and hopefully, it will include a wide array of people that play into your life on a bunch of different levels!

Working effectively with other humans is the bedrock of effective leadership.  Understanding how to build teams with people that have harmonious connections, to delivering guidance and vision to those who depend on you, and ensuring your personal life is robust and your heart is full all require people skills.  And whether they mean to or not, people have the ability to step on your toes and break your heart.

So, what do you do? 

You learn.  You let go of that instance. You forgive.  And you move on.

If only those 4 steps were so simple though. 

Let’s unpack my approach to forgiveness.  This isn’t anything that’s published or stuffed into a formalized study to prove its legitimacy.  It’s just me, talking to you.  And yes this plays into my leadership philosophy.  And a little life experience that might prove of some use to you.

 

Learning

Really challenging circumstances can be the very best learning opportunities.  They challenge you to overcome something.  Sometimes real, sometimes imagined.  And it’s an opportunity for the best or the worst of you to shine through.

Broken trust might be one of the more painful things to endure.

This is true in personal and professional settings, to be sure.  And they are often very intertwined.

A few years ago, my mother became very ill.  Not something that anyone in my family has ever dealt with or had to support before.  So she kept it to herself. 

She was immobilized with pain and struggled even to lift a glass of water to stay hydrated.  Obviously eating was of no interest.  Her body was under attack but in that awful time, she realized her identity was just as threatened.  It dawned on her that she might not be able to go back to work.  If this terrible thing that was causing her piercing and nearly intolerable pain didn’t subside, there was no way she could return to the professional world she loved. 

Interestingly, she reflects most now, not on her physical pain, but on the pain of losing her work.  Her ability to interact with others as an authority.  Her purpose. 

But that pain, was a lesson in valuing health, reframing identity, leaning on family, and so many other things that may not have surfaced throughout the pain.

This story is meant to illustrate that we can learn through pain.  There are nuances of oneself that shine through during pain.  Sometimes it’s unknown vulnerabilities, passions we are out of touch with, or simple truths that we have never been focused enough upon to get acquainted with.

But this isn’t a story where someone had to forgive a work situation though, is it?  Well, if you turn the page in the novel, the plot thickens.

**

It turns out my mother had a work-a-holic daughter at the time.  Without being obtuse, I assume you can conjecture that that daughter is me.

I was working for that infamous company I was fired from at the time.  Honestly, I didn’t believe I could take the time off to go see what was going on with my mom.  It’s a weak excuse and I’m embarrassed to admit it.  But, that was my naïve view.

After realizing the severity of the condition of my mom’s health, prioritizing a toxic work environment, and then being fired from it not long after, I had to learn to forgive the man that not only approached me in a very inappropriate way but fired me in the same conversation.

Theoretically, there is no business sense in forgiving him.

In the short-term, I was traumatized. In the long run, that blemish has almost caused me problems.

But here’s what I learned:

  1. The people you love come first. That’s it. There’s always another job, company, opportunity. Stop idolizing this one career.
  2. Challenges are as big as you make them. I have this mark on my record. I was fired. But looking it in the eye, owning my share of the responsibility has totally freed me from assigning any weight to the matter.  As you can tell, I’m very shy about speaking about it.  More interestingly, by telling the highest level of executives and people of influence that I’ve interviewed to work with about it has left them unconcerned and almost more amenable to working with me. The fear of what that could mean has been disintegrated by reality and not bolstered by “what ifs”.  As a result, I’m empowered…and maybe a little more interesting.
  3. Knowing your priorities are key. When I left that company, I knew I’d never work for an organization like that again. Why did it take a rough event like that to actually admit it?  If I had listened to that still small voice had been telling me to leave for MONTHS, I would have avoided the entire mess.  But, circumstances being what they are, I’m grateful for anything that helped me learn to focus on what matters.
  4. Challenging yourself to being your best self is part of your life’s work. Part of me would love to hate that man. I still don’t believe he’s a good human. But I know he’s a human. In his mind, he must have thought what he was doing was good and right for some reason. You wouldn’t hate a child for having a tantrum and this is no different. He lacked emotional, moral, and professional maturity. And without experiencing how damaging bad-managers can be, I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing today. I had a choice to be dark or to be better. It was worth a bumpy road to actively and vocally make a stance on that topic. So instead of hate, I’m getting closer to feeling thanks towards this person. I’m also entirely okay if, eventually, that feels like burning coals upon his head.

Separately, there is always something to be learned in any experience.  Even if trust is betrayed, someone seems to be attacking you, or whatever it may be.  We have this one beautiful, complicated life.  Each experience is a different flavor and why not grow from it?  Elevate yourself and how you show up so that the next instance is one you navigate through with agility and grace because you have experience and wisdom.  Those each take time to gain and time is something you’re given every single day.  I challenge you to LEARN to treat it like an asset.

 

***

 

Letting go

It’s so easy to tell a person to just let it go.  To get over it.  Whatever their “it” may be.

But actually dropping something, especially when you feel most vulnerable, can be wildly challenging.

In fact, what does it even mean to let something go?  Is it as simple as just no longer talking about it?  In your friend’s minds that might be all there is to it, but in your mind, there’s probably a little more work to do.

Cognitive Therapist, Andrea Mathews, contributed an article to Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201605/how-let-it-go

where she described the act of letting go as truly accepting reality and facing the cold hard facts of whatever situation you are in the middle of.

Immediately you might be thinking of a friend who can’t handle the fact that they were dumped.  They go through every “why aren’t I enough”, “what if I changed”, “that person is such a monster”, etc. etc.  But the facts are simple: the person you were dating didn’t want to be with you.  That’s it.  That’s all you know for sure.  And it hurts!!  So very much.  But there really isn’t anything else to concern yourself with because that is the state you are in and it’s time to stop making it more complicated.  I do believe in taking a little time to grieve.  But once you have, it’s important to realize that you are investing energy in something that is going to hold you down when your job is to move forward.

Why do we have a tendency to hold on to pain and sometimes to trivial matters?

Tony Robbin’s team wrote an article https://www.tonyrobbins.com/mind-meaning/let-go-past/

on his website that says that people struggle to let go because people have a need for certainty.  The unknown space of moving on can be scary, even when it’s in our own best interest.  Instead, we cling to the past, toxic as it may be, because it’s familiar and we have more certainty about it.

I was sitting in a meeting one time where two very divided groups had to come together to work on a problem.  One staff member entered the room and asked where the leader of the other group was going to sit.  I pointed to where I expected him to sit, and she grabbed the seat right next to his saying, “I’ve heard that statistically it’s less likely for someone to yell at you if you’re right next to them.”

I was taken aback and asked if she was accustomed to this leader yelling at her, specifically?

The answer was no…but apparently, in a meeting about 5 years ago where they had come together to work a similar problem, he did yell at her, which was inappropriate, but it was also largely inconsequential and exclusive to that one instance.

This leader now had new responsibilities that gave him more of a global perspective of the organization.  He also was under new management. And I happen to know he was doing some self-improvement work to improve his interpersonal communication.

What the woman expressed to me was fear. But deeper than that was a need to let go of the one interaction.

In the Tony Robins article, the authors suggest that you ask yourself why it matters to let go of whatever past experience you’re working through. I love this. Why does it matter for you to move on from your past relationship? Why does it matter that you forgive your coworker for messing up one time? 

In this case, it was effecting the woman I mentioned by not letting go of her one experience with the leader she thought might yell.  She did not participate in the entire meeting we were all sitting in on.  As a result, he thought she was no longer a value add and asked her manager to evaluate whether or not she should still have a role within the organization.  She, on the other hand, was hoarding information, which kept the working group from actually solving the problem they all were gathered to fix.

So why would it matter for this person to let go of her past experience?  Well for one, it put her entire job in jeopardy.  For two, she was threatening the completion of the mission her company was working towards. With consequences THAT heavy, I’d say moving on is worth it.

That’s a powerful takeaway to consider. Think about the hidden costs of not letting go of your past trials. Then think about the benefits you could reap if you did.  Being overcome by this much logic, it’s hard to do anything except let go.

 

Moving On

Once you’ve let your hurts go, the next step is to take the next step.  You have to move forward. 

The great thing is that you have responsibility for your role in your life.  If something really seems off, you have the choice to change your environment or to deal with it.  If you chose to deal with it though, remember, there is still some burden that will stay with you. 

Lao Tzu once said, “someone must risk returning injury with kindness, or hostility will never turn to good will.”   Returning injury with kindness is a step, and in many circumstances, a very commendable one at that.

What it comes down to is intentionality.  What do you really want to achieve in your relationships, your work, and your life? 

I teach people about the importance of building a leadership philosophy.  The reason for that is that I think it’s vital to have a definiteness of purpose.

So when you are in a loop of repetition, such as one of unforgiveness, you can look at what results your thoughts and actions are breeding and know if you are showing up as the person you intend to be.  The person that can fulfil the purpose you are focusing on.

Okay guys, that’s all for today.

If you need help working through this or any other leadership topic, feel free to email me at liz@theleadershipcoachinggroup.com. If you found this helpful, please consider leaving a review for the podcast on iTunes. 

Until next week…bye bye!!