“Forgiveness is about empowering your future instead of empowering your past.”
-Todd Mullins

What do you do when you’ve been betrayed?

Every one of us will be disappointed by the people we lead. And many of us will be betrayed too.

So, what will we do when that happens?

We can become embittered, refusing to trust our people in the future.

We can take our anger out on our people and punish everyone for the mistake of someone.

Or we can forgive, learn from our experience, and move forward with new wisdom.

Our response to this pain will define us as leaders.

A Chance to Forgive and Change

I was a young leader when an event I was organizing flopped. Multiple people who had given me a “yes” to their involvement all backed out at the last minute. I was left navigating the disappointment of everyone involved.

I was angry. While eating lunch with a friend, I began assigning all sorts of bad motives to those who had given me their commitments, destroying their character with my words. My friend, who worked in the real estate world, listened to me vent for a while as we shared a bowl of chips.

Once I came down off my proverbial high horse, my friend began to teach me. He asked me if I had ever followed up with them after their initial verbal commitment. I replied that I had not.

He shared how many of those people who had said “yes” likely did so because they were nice and didn’t want to disappoint me. But, without any written communication or follow-up, they either forgot their commitment, or they chose to do something else instead.

He went on to teach me how an initial “yes” like I received can mean “maybe” and that I needed to learn to follow up vigorously. He said, “If you’re going to succeed as a leader, you’re going to have to nurture these partnerships and confirm their involvement. You gotta follow up, follow up, follow up.”

I knew my friend was giving me sage advice over our burritos that day. But I knew I was going to need to go a step beyond a new follow-up strategy. I remained bitter and frustrated that I could not trust people to live up to their word.

Over time, I began to realize my need to forgive the people who I felt had let me down. Without forgiveness, I’d never be able to adapt and grow as a leader.

The Secret Ingredient to Adaptability

I’ve been doing a lot of research into forgiveness lately. I released a new resource, and I’ve been digging into the science behind forgiveness too.

When we lead teams who are afraid to make a mistake, we put a governor on our momentum and a lid on our success.

In that process, I stumbled on the work of Dr. Shawne Duperon, founder of the Nobel Prize-nominated organization, Project Forgive. Duperon’s background includes work as an Emmy Award-winning television producer. She created a brief video which tells the story of a man pursuing forgiveness after losing his wife and children to a drunk driver.

Duperon was asked about the relationship between forgiveness and leadership.
Her first response was surprising – she described adaptability.

She noted, “(Forgiveness) fosters risk-taking and adaptability in the workplace. When your leadership team is masterful at forgiveness and allows others to make mistakes without judgment, productivity, engagement, flexibility and responsiveness all increase.”

Forgiveness Creates Freedom for our Teams

In the same way that I needed to forgive in order to adapt my strategy of collaboration and partnership, I have experienced forgiveness from those I served under in the workplace. As mistakes were allowed and even at times encouraged, I experienced the freedom to innovate, experiment, and improve my work and the results of the team I led.

When we lead teams who are afraid to make a mistake or when we lead with grudges, we put a governor on our momentum and a lid on our success. As leaders, we cannot be careless about results or empower a culture of apathy. However, we can forgive those who make mistakes, and we can allow people to learn from their missteps.

No one wants to work for an angry, embittered leader. Common Grounders look for opportunities to forgive and offer second chances.

In the future, we need to become the kind of leaders we longed to serve under in the past. Forgiving others empowers that future, instead of empowering our past.

Featured Photo by Pixel2013 on Pixabay


Scott Savage uncovered the secret ingredient to adaptability in his research into forgiveness. As leaders, when we are able to move past others' mistakes we enable a culture that values improvement and innovation.