In some cultures, people are always apologising – often for very little. Sometime apologies are called for and are not forthcoming. What I have been reflecting upon is the link between apologising and forgiveness and what this means in the workplace and in the realm of leadership and creativity.

Forgiveness implies letting go, excusing someone or making a conscious decision to not get angry with someone who has harmed or upset you.

In the workplace this is more likely to be associated with making mistakes and how they are handled.

In 1995 Charles Handy stated that ‘Experiments may fail, thus forgiveness is essential. Instead of failures, unsuccessful experiments must be viewed as part of the learning process–as lessons learned.’ From this perspective and in this context is it even appropriate to apologise – unless it helps us to come to terms with an error.

It has been shown that we do learn from our mistakes, as Charles Handy suggested above. However it is almost impossible to learn from mistakes in a blame culture in which people feel threatened and feel bad about mistakes. This undermines self confidence and leads to a culture of low risk taking. This is not good for creativity.

This was recently elaborated upon in a blog on the HBR website written by Nathanael Fast , an assistant professor of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

Here is an extract from this: ‘ A deep set of research shows that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, learn less, and perform worse relative to those who own up to their mistakes. Research also shows that the same applies for organizations. Groups and organizations with a rampant culture of blame have a serious disadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, innovation, and productive risk-taking.’

It is important therefore to build a culture where mistakes can be accepted as a part of the learning process.

From a leadership perspective I am proposing that there are some useful ways in which forgiveness can be turned into a learning experience.

Leaders need to:

  • Build trust
  • Develop the confidence of their team
  • Encourage enthusiasm
  • Gain commitment
  • Enable risk taking

All within an environment which is forgiving –this in turn encourages creativity and innovation.

A learning culture requires an active learning habit in which the leader needs to coach their staff so that they can fully reflect upon their actions, understand them, learn from them and then build upon them to try something different. In this way people can take responsibility for their actions and develop their creativity.