Although I’m working a lot less with corporates these days, I like to keep my ear to the ground, and recently someone asked me what forgiveness has to do with business. To which the short answer was lots! There is a strong case for a lot more forgiveness in business.
I grew up in a work world that was very masculine. The industries I worked in were masculine (oil, shipping, IT anyway). On one level I liked it, because they were proper industries, and there is something about proper industry, rather than pure service industry that appeals to me. It’s practical. You can see the results. I like that.
At the same time, I did struggle with the old glass ceiling when I was working for large companies. A lot of that was down to me, and my own lack of confidence, but the male culture does have its own way of doing things.
One of the things I struggled with, both personally and professionally, was the concept of failure. With so many of the organisations I worked in, there was no room for mistakes. You got it right, whatever the cost, or you went to the bottom of the pile. Or even got expelled. I saw that a lot in Consultancy – even in smaller consultancy companies. Actually, especially in smaller consultancy companies.
The irony there is that, if you read the biographies of some of the world’s corporate superstars, like Jack Welch, they celebrated their failures. They celebrate what they learn from their failures. They know how to forgive themselves for getting it wrong.
The psychology of business productivity shows us, time and time again, that people are more productive when they are happy, and feel they are contributing. They are more motivated when they get positive, forward looking feedback. Yet how often do managers focus on the negative, the past mistakes, the things you got wrong, even while the organisation pays lipservice to treating people well.
While I know it’s not true for all organisations, I do see the drive to seem professional leading to a lot of self-flagellation, and even industrial bullying. And I see it particularly strongly in women, both in very large businesses and in micro-businesses. Men seem much better at us than forgiving themselves for their mistakes, or taking them in their stride. We beat ourselves up because it ‘proves’ we aren’t professional enough, we aren’t good enough. The ‘not good enough’ play into our existing insecurities, and we believe that story even more strongly.
So I think there is a place for forgiveness in business. For businesses to be less intolerant. Intolerance opens the door to bullying, and it is a recipe for underperformance. Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing sloppy work, or encouraging unprofessional behaviours, but it does allow for the fact that we are human, and humans make mistakes.
If you’d like help with personal forgiveness, or forgiveness in your business, please get in touch.