At the core of our faith is the knowledge that we are broken people, incapable of restoring our relationship with God, or with each other, through our own efforts alone. And that admission of our own brokenness is foundational to understanding and navigating our relationship with God and with those around us—including those in our workplaces.
Our vertical relationship with God can only be restored when we repent of our sins and accept God’s forgiveness, made possible through Christ’s atoning death. The process goes like this: sin → repentance → forgiveness → restoration. Through repentance and forgiveness, that which was broken becomes whole again. It is restored. God’s model of forgiveness and restoration can also transform the horizontal relationships we have with family, friends, spouses, coworkers, and even enemies. These human relationships always manifest some degree of brokenness due to our sinful nature.
In a marriage, for example, repentance and forgiveness are crucial to maintaining a healthy and loving relationship. Without regular repentance and forgiveness, scar tissue can build up until the relationship is in crisis. The two most powerful words in a marriage relationship are, “I’m sorry.” When we admit to and repent of our hurtful words or actions, we can clear the air and restore health and balance to the marriage. We must learn to forgive others as Christ forgives us.
In the same way, leaders must conduct themselves with the knowledge that they too, are broken and flawed people, both needing forgiveness and willing to forgive others. But it has been my observation that the whole concept of repentance and forgiveness is rarely invoked in our places of work. And yet, as in a marriage, during the normal course of human interaction in a workplace, people say and do hurtful things, and they make mistakes that affect those around them. But those simple and powerful words, “I’m sorry,” are rarely uttered. And they are spoken even more rarely by leaders, perhaps because apology and forgiveness require leaders to be vulnerable and acknowledge their faults, something many are uncomfortable doing.
As I mentioned in chapter nine, the cumulative effect of careless words and office sleights can become crippling to an organization, as each member of the team nurses their own anger and pain resulting from the careless (or intentional) hurtful words and actions of others. As in a marriage, relational “cholesterol” builds up and becomes harmful to our organizational health.
We cannot control the ways others conduct themselves in our workplaces, but we can control our response to their actions. And that often means forgiving people who never apologize for their words or their behavior. When we intentionally choose not to hold grudges, we help reduce that bad cholesterol that can so easily clog our work relationships. And by doing this we prevent small resentments from escalating into major conflicts.
Forgiveness is a powerful medicine that works at multiple levels in our lives. It can work in the mundane, day-to-day interactions we have with other people and also in moments of monumental crisis. In many ways, forgiveness is a kind of “wonder drug” that can heal the damage caused by a wide variety of ailments. And a leader who understands the need for forgiveness and the power of apology is a leader others will seek to follow.
Adapted from Lead Like it Matters to God by Richard Stearns. Copyright (c) 2021 by Richard E. Sterns. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com