Originally published in Inc.
By Scott Miller
If you have led teams or been on teams where employees were running scared, petrified to make a mistake for fear the tyrannical leader will find out and verbally eviscerate them in front of colleagues, it’s time to rethink your strategy — and fast. Your employees shouldn’t be scared to take risks or think big because they’re expected to simply execute the strategy handed them.
Here’s how you know that’s the culture you’ve created. For your teams, work begins on Sunday afternoon, as they start to dread Monday morning. Their Friday night was reparative from the long week. Saturday was relaxing and invigorating. Sunday morning was more of the same. And then it stops.
I have been on both sides of the equation. I know now it was torture. But I learned a different approach that eliminated the fear and paralysis. I call it pre-forgiveness. It’s a significant step beyond simply forgiving and miles past the unforgiving tyrannical leader.
You know you are a tyrannical leader if you micromanage, publicly criticize, breed mistrust, and promote a culture of fear. When you become a forgiving leader you strive to be tolerant, reasonable, relatable, and empathic. You don’t scream, shout, or curse when things go awry. But when you take that next step and become a pre-forgiving leader, you openly accept that your team is going to make mistakes, say things they regret, even fail. But you pre-forgive them for doing so. Why? Because they will thrive in that kind of environment.
If you pre-forgive, your team will relax and channel their energy, creativity, and passion into growing, learning, and contributing. You give them permission to stretch their skills, expand their beliefs, and even allow them to stub their toes along the way.
That doesn’t mean you are loose or reward underperformance. Indeed, you set clear guardrails and communicate solid expectations. But you take a step back, release team members from the fear of failure, and set them up to do their best work.
Pre-forgiving leaders aren’t setting a trap — they are not secretly rooting for team members to fail so they can swoop in. Rather, they make it safe for others to engage fully and do their best. And when things fall short, these leaders know growth comes from such mistakes. In a sense, the more mistakes, the more growth.
If you’re committed to building a preforgiveness culture, you must:
Believe your team can achieve results.
Are you walking the corridors at 7:55 a.m., to see who is in the office? Or, do you believe team members can manage their own schedules to best deliver results?
Model the behaviors they want to see.
Are you actively asking for feedback for yourself or only dishing it out to others when they fall short?
Demonstrate that you want their best.
Do you have a propensity to extend trust or default to believing others will let you down, aren’t worthy of your confidence, or might even outshine you in the end?
Handle performance issues with diplomacy.
Do you have the courage to confront a team member who seems insensitive to the feelings of others, while being considerate enough to not damage the relationship or their self-esteem?
Empower your team to take risks.
Have you communicated that it is okay for team members to try new approaches as long as they report the results back to you? Or, is everyone “on hold” and waiting for their marching orders before proceeding?
Provide direct feedback to course-correct.
Are you holding weekly one-on-one’s with every team member and actively looking to catch potential issues before they arise? Or, do you simply offer critical feedback when the results don’t measure up?
Tyrannical leaders drive fear and mistrust. Forgiveness leaders minimize the pain of failure. Pre-forgiveness leaders build a safe and empowering culture that not only drives discretionary effort and high performance, but even helps take back those Sunday afternoons.