Forgiveness as a Leadership Discipline

Angry stare

Leading is a multi-faceted experience. Joys. Surprises. Frustrations. Celebrations. Challenges. Wins. Failures. Opportunities. Losses. Hopes. Dreams. Realities. Laughs. Lessons. … and so on, and on. Any given day for a leader includes a wide array of experiences and emotions. All leaders experience situations that create bitterness and anger. It might have been an opportunity stolen from you. Or, credit for a success given to someone else. Perhaps you were wrongly accused or incorrectly judged.

If you’re like me, you identify with one or more of those and you’re thinking about a situation in the past to which you responded with bitterness and anger. Typically, we deal with this by finding a trusted friend or coworker who will listen to our story and get angry and bitter with us. Misery indeed loves company.

Leaders rarely talk about the best solution: Forgiveness.

It’s hard to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t feel just. It doesn’t feel fair.

I’ve experienced injustices in the workplace and I recall thinking, “Forgive him? That doesn’t feel right. It would be like giving up and letting him have the victory.”

Wow! Who made me God? I guess I tried to … and failed.

Of course, holding on to that bitterness didn’t bring any justice to the situation and of course it poisoned my heart for loving that person and others.

Here are some things to consider when you are experiencing anger and bitterness.

The Greek word aphiemi is defined as “I send away, release, remit, forgive, permit.” Describing Jesus’ final moments on the cross, the disciple Matthew wrote, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50, ESV). The same root word is used in Matthew 23:23 to describe the Pharisees who disregard the Jewish law.

Yielding up and disregarding are two helpful ways to think about what it means to forgive someone. Yielding up or releasing the issue and disregarding it is very different than holding on to it to fuel bitterness and anger.

Let’s consider another Greek word: charizomai. This is defined as “I show favor to, I forgive.” It’s that showing favor element that generates healing in a strained or broken relationship.

When Jesus was teaching some Pharisees about forgiveness, he told a story of a banker who had some debtors. The debtors came upon hard times and were unable to repay their loans, but the banker graciously forgave these loans. The root word used here for “graciously forgave” is charizomai (Luke 7:42, ESV). This is the same word when Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, instructing them to be “tender-hearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV).

If you’re a follower of Jesus, gracious forgiveness is something you’ve received. You’re forgiven—why would you withhold that from others?

In teaching his student Peter about forgiveness, Jesus told the story of a king who wanted to settle up his accounts with servants who owed him some money. One owed, in today’s terms, several million dollars. To recover some of the debt, the king threatened to sell off the servant and his family. The servant begged for mercy from the king. The king graciously forgave the debt. Several million dollars’ debt wiped out with a single word!

The story continues. The forgiven servant then tracked down a fellow slave who owed him just a few dollars. He demanded his money and when the other fellow couldn’t pay, the forgiven servant put the other man in prison until he could pay. When the king heard this, he was furious and put away the first servant until he could repay his debt. (See the whole story in Matthew 18:21-35.)

If you’re a follower of Christ, you know you’ve been forgiven a great debt—a debt that could only be repaid with another man’s life. (But not just any man. It had to be a perfect, sinless man—the son of God.) When we fail to forgive others we act like the first servant in the story. Forgiven, but not forgiving.

Not forgiving others generates bitterness and anger, creating barriers in our relationship with God and with others. These barriers prevent us from building trusting, healthy relationships. In the work environment, we all know that weak and broken relationships get in the way of effectiveness and success. If you hold a missional view of your work, you also know that unhealthy relationships undermine your mission.

Yield up.
Graciously forgive.

Because He forgave you.

(If you would like to know more about experiencing the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and experiencing forgiveness in your relationships, contact me or visit

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. He is also an experienced competency-based higher education professional. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Resources consulted in preparing this post:
The Healing Power of Forgiveness by Ernie Baker. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
Overcoming Bitterness by Heath Lambert. (Transcript of a podcast.) Retrieved May 3, 2018.

Photo by Peter Forster. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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