Fourth Question Leaders Seek to Build a Forgiving Organisational Culture

Forgiving organisational culture is something Fourth Question Leaders strive for. It makes sense if you think about it. A Fourth Question Leader develops the leadership practise of asking what the motivation is behind decisions at every level of the organisation. The Fourth Question Leader is checking to ensure that each and every decision is made with the best interests of team members at heart. Unforgiveness is never in the best interests of anyone. It does not serve the interests of the one who holds unforgiveness towards another, or the one who may be in need of forgiveness. Unforgiveness can also never serve the best interests of the organisation.

People stay in workplaces which seek to build a forgiving organisational culture. A forgiving organisational culture is one in which people know their mistakes will be seen as learning opportunities and not opportunities for discipline. Good employees want to learn. They want to add to their skills and learn ways to avoid making the same mistake again.

“The man who can’t make a mistake can’t make anything,” Abraham Lincoln.

Forgiving Organisational Culture builds trust© Studio Grand Ouest |

Forgiving Organisational Culture builds trust© Studio Grand Ouest |

Where leaders jump on people’s mistakes, embarrass the mistake makers publically, and see mistakes as evidence of poor performance, a culture of fear emerges. People within the organisation learn to cover up their mistakes. Even worse, they will not do anything which creates an opportunity for a mistake. This cripples the organisation. It reduces productivity and stifles innovation. The price a company pays when there is not a forgiving organisational culture is very high.

Conversely, the benefits of forgiving organisational culture to an organisation are huge. When a forgiving organisational culture creates a disposition of forgiveness team members respond with loyalty, hard work, positive word of mouth, and innovative solutions to problems.

It is now well accepted by medical experts that our health is adversely impacted by unforgiveness. Unforgiveness, bitterness and emotional stress contribute to depression and anxiety and a range of other illnesses.

The University of Wisconsin conducted research, which included the impact of forgiveness on health issues, over a period of nearly twenty years. The research revealed when we choose not to forgive and, instead, store up the pent up hostility and anger, we develop higher levels of mental illness and are sicker as a result. People who are able to give and receive forgiveness exhibit higher levels of resilience, lower levels of stress and better mental health than those who are not. Thus, a forgiving organisational culture results in a healthier workforce evidenced by higher productivity and less down time due to illness.

Daniel Goleman (in his book Social Intelligence) adds weight to the importance of developing a leadership habit of forgiveness. He points out that the biological effects of unforgiveness are reversed when we choose to forgive. Blood pressure and heart rate drop, the presence of stress hormones diminishes, and people even report improvements in appetite and sleep patterns.

“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” St. Augustine

While it is true the easiest person to fool is yourself, it is also true the hardest person to forgive is yourself. When you lead the decisions you make have an impact on those who follow. The best leaders are very aware of this and seek to interrogate the possible consequences of their decisions at every level of the organisation before enacting them. Sometimes we miss things and our decisions have unintended consequences for others.

It is times like these we need to learn how to forgive ourselves.

Forgive © Mrchan |

Forgive © Mrchan |

You are not in control of the decisions others make. You cannot change someone else. You can change yourself. I have had many experiences where I have asked for forgiveness from someone and they have not forgiven. They may say the words but they do not change the way they respond towards me. In these circumstances I remind myself that their lack of forgiveness towards me need not affect my forgiveness of them in any way.

As a Fourth Question Leader I know that any unforgiveness I hold towards myself, or others, can never bring out the best in them or in myself. It is a very high priority to work towards a forgiving organisational culture. The best way I can start that process, and sustain it, is to set the example through my words and actions.


  • Fourth Question Leaders seek to build a forgiving organisational culture
  • People stay in work places with forgiving organisational culture
  • Health is negatively impacted by unforgiveness
  • The hardest person to forgive is often yourself

Additional Resources

Forgiveness: The Least Understood Leadership Trait in the Workplace
Forgiveness: A Must-Have for Leaders
How to Connect Forgiveness and Accountability
Bad Leaders Don’t use the “F” Word