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The Other HAF of Leadership: Humility, Acceptance and Forgiveness


Our relentless pursuit towards perfection and excellence tends to blind us from cultivating traits that help us become resilient in the event of failures. What might be those factors that help us adopt a positive attitude and sustain equanimity when the going gets tough ?

Humility – What do you feel when you meet an accomplished person who radiates humility? I’m positive that ‘threatened’ is the last word that comes to your mind. You would probably feel relaxed, at ease and interested in what the other person has to speak.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less” was what C.S Lewis, one of the most intellectual giants of the 20th century, had to say about being humble. We needn’t shy away from feeling proud about our accomplishments. However, spare a thought for others who are a part of your team or organisation. It is also about creating that space for others to contribute. Who wants to hang around people who only keep talking about their ‘board room victories’ all the time?

A HBR article titled The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaderscites a study that backs up humility as one of the four critical factors of inclusive leadership. When leaders share the mistakes they have made in their journey, it creates an environment of trust among others.

Acceptance – "The ideal man bears the accident of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances."- apt words from Aristotle for some of us who refuse to accept defeats and learn to move on.  How can I accept my mistakes? What will others think of me? Shouldn’t I be that 'perfect self' that my life script has taught me to be?

Wearing a mask that projects strength without experiencing and expressing negative emotions in a healthy way can lead to serious health conditions over a period of time. Living a life of denial gets you nowhere, neither at work nor in your personal lives. It in fact reduces your self-confidence as you keep continuing to feel a sense of dissonance deep inside. An antidote to this dissonance is to have the humility to accept the fact that you cannot be perfect in everything all the time. It is OK to be wrong and to fail as long as you learn from your experiences. Practice acceptance of yourself and others without being too demanding.

Forgiveness – Think of a recent grudge that you had with someone. What do you feel? Now, keeping aspects of humility and acceptance in mind try releasing that feeling of grudge. The more you practice humility and acceptance of yourself and others without judging them, the easier it becomes to forgive. 

David K Williams, CEO of Fishbowl in a Forbes article titled ‘Forgiveness : The Least Understood Leadership Trait In The Workplace’ articulates how forgiveness is practiced at his company Fishbowl, which his bio states is a culmination of everything he has learned over his 30 plus years in business.  David believes that one of the reasons people stay at his company is that “ they know that when they make mistakes, we will help them overcome and learn new skills to avoid making the same mistake again.”

GGSC (University of California, Berkeley) in their amazing program ‘The Science of Happiness’ talks about true forgiveness-  Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling or absolving the ‘offender’ of his responsibility. True forgiveness means accepting that a mistake has been made, reducing the urge to punish or seek vengeance and an increased compassion towards the offender for their own suffering.

These traits are not just for leaders though. They augur well for the rest of us who keep continuing to persevere and march forward in the journey of life. 

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