20 December 2013

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the life of Nelson Mandela is that forgiving others – even if they have wronged you – is a necessary act, an act of empowerment. Despite his years in prison and the crimes of Apartheid, Mandela was still willing to grant forgiveness to those who had caused him, and those he cared about, great pain.

Why? Because enemies and the feelings of anger that come with them are huge distractions. If you keep looking backwards then you won’t ever move forwards. Mandela knew this and was able to contribute to the progress of an entire country by encouraging forgiveness and resolution.

Businesses often fall foul of letting rivalries divert them from their priorities. It’s like the angst that existed between BA and Virgin. That was a massive distraction for both organisations and it gave some of the smaller ones some space to move into. Richard Branson, however, is a good example of how befriending your enemies can create a positive outcome. After the animosity between the two airlines, he actually rang up Colin Marshall, who ran BA, and invited him for lunch. How many disputes in life could be resolved with a cup of tea, an honest conversation and a handshake?

Personally, I’ve got no enemies in business. I’m not sure whether I’m regarded in the same way though, as we do have some competitors who get frustrated with me, but I would greet all of them with a hug. Ultimately, when you make things too personal, they become a distraction and this can cause disruption in an otherwise successful business.

Forgiveness isn’t about how the other person feels about you but about how you feel about yourself, and whether you can give yourself the freedom to think laterally. In life, you are only ever competing with yourself. It is irrelevant what you think about someone else. Focussing on becoming a better person and making things better for those around you is what’s important.

And if people aren’t forgiving towards you? Simply remember what Gandhi said:

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

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