How to Forgive

Just like most people at work, I had ignored the book that lay in my drawer. Little did I know it’d teach me how to forgive. It wasn’t any self-help title or a bestseller that I was looking forward to reading. It was our company’s on-going series in lessons in effective management and leadership. That afternoon, during my lunch break, I opened my desk drawer to find something when I saw the little thing.

The mini-book was titled Inspire to Lead and had the first full-page quote that got me reading further. It said. . .

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a Leader.” John Quincy Adams

I finished the entire book during one lunch break. It was a quick read but the lessons are still fresh in my mind. One such lesson that especially struck a chord is what I share below:

How to Forgive Like a Leader – Short Story

It was a story of a company whose top executives were not working together effectively. Egos, infighting, manipulation, and turf-battles had left the company morale ravaged and devastated and productivity waning.  A new CEO was brought in and directed to fix the problem or everyone, including him, would be gone.  Through his action, he gave the group of executives a unique and valuable lesson in forgiveness and humility.

As the executives entered the room, they noticed it had been re-arranged into a shape of a horse-shoe, forcing their eyes to the center of the room. In the middle was a large green trash can. You know, the kind you would find sitting out on the curbside for trash pickup.

The meeting began with a brief introduction by the CEO and once the introductions were concluded, he asked all the execs to scatter about the room and make a list of any injustice that had been done to them — any issue that nagged at them as unfair, along with the name of every person who had wronged them in any way.

All of them compiled a long list.

The CEO then distributed a large, clear plastic garbage bag to each of the executives as they stared puzzled and a bit bewildered at what was happening.  He walked over to the middle of the room and removed the lid of the big green garbage can. He instructed each executive to come up and fill their plastic bag with one of the cleaned, unpeeled potatoes contained in the can for every name/injustice combination they had noted on their list.

The group was asked to carry their bag of potatoes with them everywhere they went for the next two weeks.  To the meetings, traveling in their car, at their desk, around their house, and to bed each night – everywhere!  Absolutely no exceptions!

At first they all thought it rather amusing and funny, lugging around sacks of potatoes, but soon the laughter faded and embarrassment and frustration began to set in. Employees within the company couldn’t help but gawk and whisper about the potato bags and questioned why the executives acted this way.

Day after day the bag became more of an impediment and barrier to their jobs and their lives. Lugging them from meetings and other places within the office and back and forth between office and home, the hot weather and sun added an additional element of unpleasantness as the potatoes began to rot and transform into a smelly, slimy, stinky mess.

After two weeks, there was another meeting. The CEO explained that the demise of the potatoes represented how quickly such dead weight in our lives becomes toxic and ugly and how physically fatiguing and debilitating it is to carry with us the pain and negativity of things past.

He then offered forgiveness as an answer to some of the problems they were facing.

Forgiveness was probably something you had never really considered or associated with leadership, but when we as individuals carry around the gripes of yesterday, we limit what we are able to accomplish today. Forgiveness may be perceived as a value that we extend to someone else, but its true nature and value are far deeper.”

In short, he had unveiled a great lesson: How to forgive and be a true leader.

Forgiveness & Leadership

The reality is that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, a freedom to discard and shed that which is no longer healthy or positive in our own life.

Think about your own situation at work, or at home — how many of us carry around that rotten sack of potatoes full of past injustices, offenses, and insults that may have been perpetrated on us innocently or with malicious intent? Ask yourself how heavy and toxic has it become for you.

The capacity to forgive is a rare and unique quality that few leaders ever master, but it is one that offers enormous strength, wisdom, and transformative power when it is extended humbly and gracefully.

Forgiveness is a choice. Although it may seem the harder, less beaten path, choose it and see how you feel. After all, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. Inculcate forgiveness in your daily journey because you don’t know what the other person is going through when they wronged you. Don’t waste your energy carrying a grudge.

How do you practise leadership + forgiveness? Share your tips and tell us how to forgive.


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Linda, by profession is an Information Technology geek but she also has a voracious passion for reading and writing. She lives in sunny West Central Florida with her two children ages 8 and 18. You can find her here and at The Write Biz, where she assists federal career seekers with writing KSAs, Federal Resumes and Career Services.


  1. Brent on the 25th January

    WOW. Excellent and timely article for me and the business I work for. We are at the phase where our problems are affecting productivity. I am on my way out, but have looked for ways to lead the discussion of this very topic.

    Although I am not sure my leaders will be able to ‘receive’ this information – I shall try to help them understand this lesson before I leave.

    Thank you !

  2. Viola on the 26th January

    I’m afraid the message is a bit “self-helpish”. The issue is quite more complex: one should let the bad feelings flee, keeping the learned lessons.

    Anyway, the reading is truly useful for make us think. Thanks!

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