Great Leaders Know When to Forgive

A little mercy can go a long way. Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes for the Harvard Business Review on the value of forgiveness for great leaders of business, using several historic examples to make her case. Not only is knowing when to forgive a good virtue in itself, it can also improve the long-term viability of your business.

Kanter first cites the case of Nelson Mandela, who forgave his oppressors after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa. He appointed a racially integrated cabinet and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help drive the country forward. This was done not just for the sake of uniting the country but also to avoid violence and attract investment in the economy.

Another example regards the Shinhan Bank in South Korea, a newer bank which acquired the larger, older Chohung Bank that had fallen on hard times. Some 3,500 Chohung employees shaved their heads in protest of the takeover, to which Shinhan responded by agreeing to raise wages, promise no layoffs, have equal representation of both banks on key committees, and wait three years for full integration. Within three years of then, Kanter notes that Shinhan Financial Group was outperforming not only the industry but the entire South Korean stock market, another case of mercy producing profit.

A separate good reason to forgive is because the alternative is seldom beneficial to business either, as Kanter says:

If revenge is not justice, it is not strategy either. The founder of a second-tier computer company was pushed out a few years after the company went public. I watched him gather investors and regain control with something to prove — that they were wrong to push him out. Once back at the helm, he had no clear alternative direction. The company foundered and was sold at a low valuation. Let's hope that revenge against critics isn't the motivation for Michael Dell to take Dell private or the founder of Best Buy to attempt a takeover.

She concludes by reiterating that while revenge and anger only bring destruction, forgiveness has the ability to mend and rebuild. Would you rather devote all your energy to pulverizing the people who did you wrong, or would you turn the other cheek and use those dissenters to help you elevate your business to even greater heights? The satisfaction of exacting revenge is nothing compared to the satisfaction of overseeing a juggernaut business.

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