We’ve all heard a lot about the power of forgiveness. Self-help books and coaching literature all talk about how liberating it is to forgive others as well as yourself. While this is of course true, there is a practice far more important and more potent than forgiveness. And that is asking for forgiveness.
Apology is a vital leadership practice, but asking for forgiveness is a big leap beyond apologizing. When you forgive someone, you are at the center of the interaction; you hold the power; it is you who feels aggrieved, and you are the victim. Meanwhile, the other is the wrongdoer. You are the judge, the jury, and potentially the executioner. And you, benevolently, have decided to forgive the other of the wrongdoing you judge them to have done to you. That’s quite a powerful position to be in.
But this is not the case when you ask for forgiveness. When you ask for forgiveness, the other person is at the center of the interaction—you are handing power to them by allowing them the option to forgive you or not. In doing so, you have put yourself in their hands and you are certainly not in a comfortable space while displaying immense vulnerability and humility. Asking for forgiveness is a much more noble place to be than when you are the one doing the forgiving. When you ask for forgiveness, you are exposing yourself and pleading for benevolence from another.
Asking for forgiveness takes some reflection. We need to clearly articulate what it is we did and in what ways it might have harmed or undermined the other. This reflection itself is such an important developmental process as we probe not only what we did and what the consequences of our actions were, but also why we did it. As we become accustomed to this process, the idea of consequence becomes embedded in our inner beings so that we are more permanently aware of consequence, even in the very moments of our actions.
In this digital age, we often act and react quickly, and we move on so quickly from our actions and reactions that we rarely contemplate consequence and seldom consider asking for forgiveness from people we might damage or hurt. Many people are so thoughtless in their impulsive social media reactions that they often damage themselves, never mind others.
In the Jewish calendar, this is the season for asking for forgiveness—not just from G-d but also from others and from oneself. It’s hard enough to ask forgiveness from a peer, partner, or boss. Sometimes, though, we have to ask forgiveness from our subordinates, our teams, or even our children. This can be very uncomfortable but immensely valuable. It might help to journal a list of people whose forgiveness one needs to ask and the reasons for it—then, being courageous, choosing one person, and asking them for forgiveness. Notice how much closer you are to that person after that interaction than perhaps you ever were before. Forgiveness—both asking for it and granting it—builds trust and reinforces connection, creating stronger bonds and deeper intimacy than ever.