Leaders Who Can’t Forgive


The detrimental effects of holding onto grudges and grievances.

By Manfred F. F. Kets De Vries
Article Reviewed by Stacy M Menz, PT, DPT, PCS

In life and in leadership, we are surrounded by relationships, which open us up to being hurt by others. However, it is in the leader’s best interest to ignore a gut reaction to “get even.” Stressing this point, the author quotes Mahatma Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

When looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint, this tit-for-tat behavior was a way of protection. That being said, it can spiral out of control to where revenge is a vicious cycle that cannot be stopped. As leaders, we are best served by avoiding this cycle. When forgiveness does not happen, a mental poison builds up that is destructive rather than constructive. This is shown in studies where hatred, spite, and bitterness create a breeding ground for stress disorders.

The author takes time to look at why some people are more likely to forgive than others and points out three features associated with holding onto grudges and grievances. These are:

Obsessional Rumination—when a person is unable to let go of their past and the wrongs that may have occurred during their formative years.

Lack of Empathy—the feeling that motivates behavior that is altruistic. By being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes you are able to imagine their viewpoint and/or motivations, which can create an opening for forgiveness.

Sense of Deprivation—when a person feels that they missed out on key things such as attention and care in their formative years, they focus on how to obtain them. However, even if they do, they are always comparing themselves to others, potentially in an envying way.

Just because a person demonstrates these behaviors does not prevent them from being a leader, but they may not see the best results from the people who follow them. Being able to forgive is critical if someone wants to make a difference. The author points out that forgiveness does not mean excusing unacceptable behavior but rather it is “healing the memory of the harm.”

Kets de Vries M. Harvard Business Review. Website. http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/leaders-who-cant-forgive/#disqus_thread. Posted December 4, 2013. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Stacy Menz, PT, DPT, PCS, is the founder of Starfish Therapies located in San Francisco and the Bay Area. She can be reached at stacy@starfishtherapies.com.

Practice Bottomline

As a business owner, you are surrounded by people and relationships. When navigating these relationships, there will be times that feelings will be hurt. You have the power to choose how you react: You can carry a grudge and try to “get even” with the employee or vendor or client, or you can choose to not be controlled by their behavior, move forward and try for a better outcome. Take the time to talk to the person. By opening rather than shutting down the lines of communication, you can work toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

Are you a PPS Member?
Please sign in to access site.
Enter Site!