Woman Leaning Head Against A Reflective Wall

Forgive yourself - occasionally

How to avoid the negative effects of ongoing pressure as a leader

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
3 minute read
Woman Leaning Head Against A Reflective Wall

Leaders are assumed to be resilient, confident and strong. Yet most are as fragile and self-doubting as the rest of the population.

Many leaders are also incredibly tough on themselves. Setting high standards, being driven to work long and hard, and being uncompromising on themselves in every aspect of their lives has helped them get to a leadership position.

These characteristics are admired by those above and below them on the hierarchy and are therefore, self-perpetuating.

Predictably, when taken to extremes, these characteristics can also cause problems.

The relentless, unforgiving nature of these behaviours takes its toll. Fatigue, stress, anxiety and many more symptoms bubble to the surface of many leaders who sustain this drive for extended periods.

Everyone has a different threshold for how long they can push themselves, but few, if any, escape the pitfalls associated with these behaviours.

On the surface, the answer to this dilemma is simple - just tell the leader to relax more, to chill out, to forgive themselves, to take a holiday or slow down.

If you are one of the leaders who displays these characteristics, you’ll likely be offended by this superficial answer.

Of course you know all these remedies already. What this answer fails to realise is that these characteristics are at the core of the leaders who display them.

Those characteristics are what drives them every day and they are the behaviours to which they attribute their success to date. There is no chance they will give them up and simply “chill-out”.

Rather than recommending a complete slow down and relaxation treatment, perhaps we could suggest an occasional moment of forgiveness.

We could highlight the range of different variables and people who have influenced an outcome and therefore the person need not accept the full blame (or credit) for a particular outcome.

Over time, this lessening of the intensity around the impulse to push hard and drive progress could enable the leader to realise the benefits of their behavioural choices without experiencing the negative side-effects.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

If your personality drives you to be relentless and unforgiving of yourself, you are placing your career and long-term health at risk.

As your career progresses, your ability to maintain your relentless drive at the same time as absorbing the additional pressures that come with the role will be unsustainable.

So you have a choice.

Learn to forgive yourself, even occasionally, or suffer the negative health effects of this ongoing pressure.

Start by forgiving yourself where it is obvious, even to you, that you are a small stakeholder in a particular outcome. Then, as you become more comfortable, take the opportunity to permit yourself the occasional mistake. It will be worth it in the long run.

Ask yourself

What impact could this action have on your leadership success? 

How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?