Strategic Forgiveness

The essence of a second chance is strategic forgiveness. This is not the forgiveness in the spiritual sense; it is the forgiveness of an opportunistic nature. It is the kind of forgiveness that, after weighing all the factors and grievances, recognizes that the person who gets a second chance
often becomes deeply loyal and committed to walking on a nobler path. By giving someone a second chance, an opendoor leader creates the opportunity for a conversion experience, allowing for healthier and more productive choices. There is a risk of getting burned by giving a second chance, but the opportunities outweigh the risk if you successfully convert someone from destructive behavior to constructive behavior.

Mr. Fusion's story extends beyond helping the air force. If we are to believe the rumors, he is now a productive, tax-paying member of society whose clandestine company employs more than 50 white hat computer-hacking patriots who work for the good of national security.

When a Second Chance Is Worth the Risk

An open-door leader has to be very thoughtful about when to give someone a second chance. For example, giving an embez- zler a second chance would be stupid. Letting someone off the hook for sexual harassment would not only be immoral, it would probably get both of you fired.

So, how do you decide who deserves a second chance? Mercy should be reserved for people who:

• made an honest and legal mistake

• approached the situation thoughtfully and logically, but the outcome just didn't work out (good reasons, bad outcome)

• made a mistake out of ignorance, not malice (such as a young employee who barges into the CEO's office to ask for a raise)

• suffer after a career setback, but have a long track record of adding value to the company

• are deeply embarrassed for their mistakes and likely to retain the lesson for the duration of their careers.

Are You a “No-Chance” Leader?

Many leaders are quick to punish and slow to forgive. When a worker makes a mistake and begs for mercy, this kind of leader says, “No way!” and then rubs the worker's nose in the mistake, as if she was an errant dog in need of punishment. No-chance leaders seem to take pleasure in the role of punisher, reveling in leveling harsh judgments. Their power derives from their ability to cause pain.

Open-door leaders, conversely, are powerful because they opt first for mercy and use punishment only as a last resort. By choosing forgiveness over iron-fisted punishment, the open-door leader creates a learning opportunity. Thus the person who has been traveling down the wrong road stands the best chance of getting on the right path.

How would you react if an employee lost a client, got the data wrong, came in over budget, or dropped the ball in some
other way? Would you explode? Would you mentally write him off for good and hold the mistake against him forever more? Would you stew with resentment?

What kind of example are you setting for others by the way you handle (or mishandle) mistakes? While no leader should tolerate habitual mistakes, all leaders should expect some mess-ups . . . even from themselves. Mistakes, small and big, often provide the best learning opportunities, however, the opportunity vanishes if the punishment far outweighs the crime.

Open-Door Actions and Reflections

1. Think of a mistake you've made.

• What was it?

• How did people label you after you made it?

• Who gave you a second chance along the way?

• How did the second chance impact who you are today?

2. How do you handle or mishandle mistakes?

• What was the most recent mistake that one of your direct reports made?

• Were you able to turn the mistake into a learning opportunity?

3. How did you do it?
Have you been harboring a resentment or grudge against someone at work?

• What would it take for you to forgive them?

• What are the benefits—to them and you—that might make forgiveness a strategic choice?

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