Today’s post is the featured article from the October 2007 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.
It was one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news. Kind of like where you were the moment you heard of the assassination of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Or where you were the moment you heard of the space shuttle explosion — both of them. Or where you were and who you were with on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.
It was a year ago this month. I was on my way to do a book signing at a Barnes & Noble back in my hometown of Memphis. I was just getting ready to exit I-40 and was listening to the radio. It was the “top-of-the-hour” so the national news update was airing. This time it wasn’t the national news event itself that created a permanent memory of where I was … it was what happened after the event. The national reporter was interviewing a resident of the Amish community who, just a couple of days earlier, had suffered the unthinkable. A man walked into a school murdering five precious children of their community and then killed himself. The reporter asked a number of questions and then asked what seemed to be a fairly general question — “where do you go from here?” The Amish woman being interviewed didn’t even hesitate as she replied “straight to forgiveness.” I wish I could have seen the expression on the face of the radio reporter, although her stunned response of “excuse me?” was all I really needed to see. It was immediately clear that the interviewee was confident and clear while the reporter was totally confused. It was as if the concept of forgiveness, especially in this set of circumstances, couldn’t begin to penetrate the psyche of the reporter. And if I hadn’t found her response so stunning, myself, I probably wouldn’t have remembered where I was at that moment. But beyond stunned, it got me seriously thinking about the virtue and the value of forgiveness in life … and in business.
I spend a lot of time thinking about values in business — especially, lately, in writing a book with Mac Anderson on “Building Value Through Values” (to be published Spring 2008 www.simpletruths.com). And I have seen the values statement of numerous organizations. These lists of values most often proclaim some very noble virtues. But I have never seen one of them
— ever — list anything close to the word forgiveness. Maybe because none of them list anything close to the word humility either. Most of the values statements list much stronger and bold proclamations of words like quality, innovation and excellence. But what could be more excellent in the culture of any organization than a fabric of forgiveness. It may, in fact, change
Imagine being measured with monthly metrics on how effectively you forgive and move on. Before you write this off as soft and inappropriate for shop talk … begin to ponder the bottom-line impact of grudges, politics and silos in the workplace. Or begin to imagine the cost of gossip perpetuated by a longing for revenge.
I challenge you to seriously stop and imagine your workplace having a sincere culture of forgiveness and humility. How might it systemically impact the depth of relationships? How might it conserve the energy spent on office politics … to be used for more important things? How might it change the level and spirit of service? Could it possibly impact retention and the level of engagement of each employee? I am not sure we know for sure … since I am not aware of any organization that has really tried it. But my gut tells me that the impact could be truly transformational.
I am not talking about abandoning accountability. In fact, forgiveness may very well inspire a desire for accountability from within rather than a measurement by others. I am not so sure the Amish need measurements to have people do what they are supposed to do. They simply know what to do by the very nature of who they are. You know how they work — when a neighbor’s barn burns down, the whole community comes together to rebuild it. Now that’s a meaningful network!
Maybe forgiveness doesn’t appear on the values statement of companies, because it is just too hard to do. It demands too much from us. Some would say that forgiveness is a journey — probably founded on the fact that time heals most anything. Not for the Amish. Hours after the unthinkable, they were thinking about forgiveness. Not revenge. Forgiveness. I am sure it wasn’t easy. But easy isn’t the point. One year later, I would suggest they are stronger, not weaker, because of it.
ACTION IDEA: Simple. This next month — forgive someone. And then ask someone to forgive you. Finally, suggest adding forgiveness to the list of your organization’s values statement. I can all but promise you, at first glance, most everyone will think you’re nuts! Challenge them to think of the solid business implications to the bottom line. They may have a hard time comprehending it. They might still think you’re nuts. They might even fire you — and if they do — forgive them!