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March Madness Leadership: Forgiveness is an MVP

March Madness is one of my favorite times of year because, well, it’s full of college basketball madness. Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament: Cinderella stories, dramatic losses for well-seeded teams and, of course, jaw-dropping buzzer beaters. In a lot of ways, I’m sure coaching one of these college teams is a lot like leading an organization. You’re never sure who’s going to rise to the challenge despite weeks and months of preparation and coaching.

Will your new recruits have the poise and composure to pull off the big presentation? Will your newly assembled team gel like you need them to for the upcoming goals you’ve set? It’s enough to keep you awake at night. Your team members are bound to make mistakes here and there. They’re only human, right? That’s why a little forgiveness can go a long way when madness strikes in March or any month at your company.

Why should you be a forgiving leader? Because so much can be gained from our failures. In fact, a growing amount of literature is focused on the topic of how to maximize learning when mistakes happen. Experts have dedicated entire books to the merits of iterative experimentation and the benefits of honing and pivoting with every hiccup along the way. I used to tell our employees that sometimes adversity can be your best friend. If you choose to learn from hardship, it will lead to perseverance and ultimately build your character.

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”
March madness inspiration from John Wooden

Many companies have taken notice of this movement and are getting away from traditional methods where documentation of employee failures follows a prescriptive path. Instead, companies are getting in sync with the entrepreneurial spirit of productive failure and updating their techniques for evaluation to complement a trial-and-error climate.

When we forgive ourselves and others, we not only open the doors to learning moments, but we also pave the way for mutual respect in our workplace. No leader is perfect and, therefore, shouldn’t judge others for their imperfections. An effective leader recognizes that his or her forgiveness will often do far more to gain the respect and loyalty of an employee than other forms of coaching might do.

That’s why forgiveness is a powerful act. If offered humbly, it allows you to move smoothly through some of your most difficult interactions. Leaders who recognize this have the ability to facilitate a healthy climate for constant innovation and build a positive culture on the foundation of mutual respect and loyalty.

Some coaches lead their teams to the Final Four nearly every March in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament. In fact, one of my favorite coaches, John Wooden, brought his UCLA Bruins to the championship 11 times in the 12 years he was head coach. Wooden understood that great coaches are teachers. Inherent in that role was forgiving his players when they made mistakes. There were no long lectures, grudges or reproofs. Instead, he made room for his players to learn, to improve and to win.

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