For thousands of years many ancient cultures believed that the Earth was flat, including the Greeks until the classical period. When Columbus made his voyage to the New World many people in Europe knew the Earth was round, but it was not, by any means, universally known.

Woman smoked while they were pregnant in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They didn’t know what we know today – that smoking during pregnancy causes premature birth, low birth weight, certain birth defects and can cause complications with the placenta, the organ through which nutrients pass from mother to fetus. Heck, even Jacqueline Kennedy smoked while she was pregnant. There are pictures all over the internet to prove it!

Can you believe that we once thought the world was flat? That women smoked while pregnant? Hard to imagine.

When you hear the word forgiveness, you may think it is a faith thing. A personal thing. And it is. But what if I told you it is also a leadership thing?

Years from now, I believe, we will look back at our lack of understanding of the direct and profound correlation between forgiveness and leadership – the same way we can’t believe that humans once thought the world was flat and women once smoked while pregnant.

I believe this for two reasons. I’ve coached and learned from hundreds of leaders throughout my career. And many of the poor leadership decisions I’ve seen people make… most of these poor decisions can be traced back to fear, anger and pain. And fear, anger and pain can always be linked back to the lack of forgiveness in our lives -forgiving ourselves and forgiving those that have wronged us, betrayed us, hurt us or deceived us.
The second reason I know forgiveness and leadership are two sides of the same coin is my personal journey with the lack of forgiveness in my life.

Most of my dysfunctional issues within my marriage – most of my unhealthy issues with my children – most of my challenging issues with my employees and teammates – and most of my negative issues with relationships in my life… all connect back to 42 people.

Let me explain.

I’ve known for quite some time that I have forgiveness issues. It is easy for me to forgive small mistakes. I make them myself every day. But it is very hard for me to forgive people that have wronged, hurt or betrayed me.
I’ve become obsessed with understanding the power of forgiveness and its’ effect on leading and loving others. I’ve read a dozen books on forgiveness. I’ve taken a class on forgiveness. And I recently invited a coach into my life to specifically work on my forgiveness issues.

Why? Because I want to become a better man. I want to be a better husband and father. And I want to better serve (and love) the people that choose to follow me.

During my forgiveness class, the teacher asked the students to spend an hour and write down on a piece of paper everyone in their lives they needed to forgive. The teacher wanted us to write down every person, since childhood, that has wronged us, hurt us or betrayed us. I wrote down 42 names. Yes, 42! Former business partners, employees, friends, family members, board members, brother-in-law’s, bosses, abusers and my wife’s ex-husband. I even listed my name as one of the 42… I need to learn to forgive myself!

Last week I spent two days with my forgiveness coach in the mountains of Colorado. I told Chris that I wanted to find a way to release my anger… my fear… my pain.

After days of deep conversation Chris and I walked to the Blue River in Silverthorne, Colorado. I ripped up that paper into 42 little pieces. And through prayer and soul-searching, I released those 42 pieces of paper into the river. As I watched them flow down the river, my eyes filled with tears. I know this is just the beginning, but an immense weight was lifted from my shoulders that day.

I wrote about forgiveness in my last book, The Heart Led Leader. I shared that forgiveness is one of the 18 traits that leaders must possess to be able to lead from the heart. I’ve learned that it is hard for leaders to lead with love, compassion and empathy when they have 42 pieces of pain, fear and anger in their hearts.

The world is not flat. Women should not smoke during pregnancy. And forgiveness and leadership are directly linked.

I encourage you to write down the names of all the people in your life, both personally and professionally, who’ve hurt or wronged you throughout your lifetime. Release those people from your heart. And then find the courage to forgive them. Go sprinkle those pieces of paper into a nearby river.

It will change your heart. And it will change the way you live, love and lead.