The give and take of competition, employee relations, team building, and the dynamics of hiring and firing in business is relationally complicated.  Sometimes the line between forgiving each other for mistakes or bad decisions and forgetting about those decisions becomes blurred.  This week’s meditation is by C. William Pollard who discusses how forgiving and forgetting was worked out in several cases from his business – ServiceMaster.

“The writer of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes reminds us there is a time for everything. This includes a time to forgive, but does it include a time to forget?

At ServiceMaster, forgiveness among us as board members and in our relationships with company officers is an important contributing factor to the success of the firm. When leaders fail or make mistakes, the pain of identification and resolution can often test the vitality and life of the firm.

As your CEO, there have been times when I have failed you and have needed your forgiveness. The mistakes I have made that have hurt the most are those that have resulted in broken relationships with a colleague. 

Several years ago, I had such a painful experience with one of our senior officers. His employment was terminated and you, as a board, supported my decision. His case ended up in court and was finally settled with no real winners. After the settlement, the two of us met. We forgave each other for the mistakes we have made and then he asked if he could be re-employed at the same level of responsibility as before the termination. My answer was no. I had forgiven him but had not forgotten. If he wanted to come back and work with me to reestablish a relationship of trust, I was willing to proceed on that basis. But he could not come back with the same level of confidence and trust that we enjoyed before the termination. He chose not to proceed on this basis. 

Soon after, I had another painful experience with an officer of the firm. He was a productive and capable leader who chose to leave us and go work for a competitor. His case also ended up in court, but before the final resolution, he expressed a desire to come back to ServiceMaster. We met and had an open discussion about the reasons for his leaving and about my disappointment that he had gone with a competitor. As is often the case, there was a fault on both sides. We forgave each other and agreed on a plan for him to come back in a position that would allow both of us to regain a relationship of confidence and trust. Now, more than two years later, that relationship has been restored. He’s a productive member of the team. The memories relating to the circumstances of his leaving have faded and are no longer relevant.

The reality of human relationships suggests that the separation of forgiving from forgetting is not only normal but prudent.

There is only one relationship I am aware of where the acts of forgiving and forgetting come together simultaneously. It occurs when a person chooses to have a relationship with God through the power and work of His son Jesus Christ. When that occurs, referred to by some as being born again, our sins and failure our not only forgiven but are forgotten by a God who removes them as far as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:12]. It is a miracle only God can perform. As He forgives He forgets.”

REFLECT:

  • Is there a relationship within your company or with vendors or customers where you have forgiven but not forgotten? How can you begin building a relationship of trust with that person.

Corpath – John Wiseman

Excerpttaken from, William Pollard,  Serving Two Masters, pp. 117-119 – A CEO’s devotional thoughts for his Board of Directors.

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