Leading with Trust

The Role of Forgiveness in Rebuilding Trust – 8 Principles to Remember

Withholding forgiveness from someone is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

I’ve experienced this personally in my own life and can attest to the fact that trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can be stronger and healthier than it was before. But it requires the parties involved to step out in faith, invest the time and effort, and be accountable to each other.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are 8 principles to remember:

1. Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.

2. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to extend forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.

4. Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust, then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.

5. Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.

6. Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.

7. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.

8. Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. If you skip this step you take the risk of trying to rebuild your relationship on shifting sand and eventually trust will crumble again. Start with forgiveness, you won’t regret it.

The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements

sorryI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 28 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 28 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Forgiveness is the Path to Rebuilding Trust – 8 Principles to Remember

i-forgive-youSuffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

I’ve experienced this personally in my own life and can attest to the fact that trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can be stronger and healthier than it was before. But it requires the parties involved to step out in faith, invest the time and effort, and be accountable to each other.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are 8 principles to remember:

1. Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.

2. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.

4. Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.

5. Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.

6. Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.

7. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.

8. Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. If you skip this step you take the risk of trying to rebuild your relationship on shifting sand and eventually trust will crumble again. Start with forgiveness, you won’t regret it.

5 Strategies to Cultivate a Healthy Leadership Spirit

OpennessLeading in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world takes its toll on the best of us. If we aren’t careful, the stress and difficulty of leadership can quickly become a burden that negatively shapes our perspective and causes us to lead in unhealthy ways.

Last week I wrote about five warning signs that indicate you’re leading with a wounded spirit. Those warning signs serve notice that something is off track with your inner life as a leader. They signify your values, beliefs, and attitudes have taken a negative hit from the rough experiences you’ve had, and there is a need to adjust your mindset and priorities so you can get back on track to leading at your full potential.

Even more important than recognizing the warning signs something is wrong with your inner life as a leader, is pursuing strategies to prevent yourself from running off the rails in the first place. To cultivate a fertile soil for your life as a leader, or to apply a soothing balm to your wounded spirit, try following these five strategies:

1. Live and lead for something bigger than yourself – “It’s not about you.” Rick Warren’s famous opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, simply and succinctly illustrates a universal truth: your life and leadership will experience greater joy and fulfillment when you realize you aren’t the center of the universe. If your life and leadership is all about you, you have no choice but to be severely wounded by the trials of life. But if your life and leadership is driven by a higher purpose, something bigger than yourself, you are able to place the difficulties of life in proper perspective. For me, it’s my faith in Jesus that drives my leadership priorities. It’s my True North, as Bill George says, that guides the beliefs, values, and actions that help me lead in authentic ways. Identifying your higher purpose and calling is the most important strategy to ward away the debilitating effects of wounded leadership.

2. Have an abundance mentality – We have Stephen R. Covey to thank for helping us better understand the power of having an abundance mentality. As Covey explains in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, healthy leaders are others-focused and understand there is more than enough power, resources, and authority to share among everyone. As opposed to having a scarcity mentality—a perspective that information, ideas, and responsibility need to be hoarded—well-grounded leaders know they are here to serve and meet the needs of others. When the wounds of life and leadership begin to accumulate, abundance-minded leaders keep giving themselves away because they know it will come back to them tenfold.

3. Surround yourself with truth tellers – Every leader needs a few close associates who aren’t afraid to speak the honest truth. These truth tellers keep you grounded in reality and hold you accountable to living in alignment with your leadership purpose. Most of our leadership wounds are self-afflicted. Especially as we move higher up in leadership positions, we become more self-focused and less sensitive to the needs of others around us. If we aren’t careful, we begin to slowly drift off course and gradually start acting in ways counter to our ideals. Surround yourself with people who will compassionately, lovingly, yet honestly and directly, tell you the truth even if it’s difficult to hear.

4. Guard your heart – “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) As the great proverb illustrates, everything you do as a leader flows from your heart—your emotional core, spirit, or soul. There are a number of ways you can guard your heart as a leader. Beyond the five strategies listed in this article, consider these others:

  • Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who inspire you to be your best.
  • Stay away from negative people who bring you down or detract from your leadership purpose.
  • Read books, blogs, and articles that help you grow your leadership knowledge and skills.
  • Be purposeful about identifying your leadership point of view—the values, beliefs, and ideals that define your leadership philosophy.

5. Practice forgiveness – Refusing to forgive ourselves and others keeps us mired in our leadership dysfunction. As I mentioned last week, refusing to grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die; it does nothing but harm ourselves. Forgiveness grants freedom from past hurts. It serves as a regular cleansing of our leadership wounds, keeping them from getting infected and allowing them to properly heal. Yes, wounds can leave scars, but scar tissue is stronger and more resilient. Forgiveness makes you a stronger and more resilient leader.

Leadership is a demanding enterprise that requires our very best and it’s vital to have clear strategies in place that protect you from the inevitable wounds that will come your way. Feel free to leave a comment about the strategies you employ to help you lead at your best.

5 Warning Signs You’re Leading With a Wounded Spirit

Wounded SpiritBeing a leader can be rough business and it’s not for the faint of heart. You’re constantly in the line of fire, not just from those outside your team, but often from within as well. If there is a team member unhappy with something, who do they complain to? You. If your team doesn’t achieve an important goal, who does your boss come down on? You. If another department leader is frustrated about a perceived lack of collaboration from your team, who gets an earful of feedback? You.

If you aren’t careful, the toxicity of these negative situations can seep into your soul and cause you to lead with a wounded spirit. I firmly believe that effective leadership is about who you are as a person—your values, beliefs, and character—and much less about what you actually do in terms of leadership techniques or practices. Leadership begins on the inside, and what’s on the inside eventually comes out. If your inner life is in order, healthy leadership practices will follow. If you’re leading with a wounded spirit, that will be clear as well.

Unfortunately, we’re often blind to the reality that we’re leading in a wounded capacity. We are so close to it that we don’t see it, and it may take someone else calling us out on our behavior for us to realize what’s going on. But if we pay attention and look closely, we can detect these warning signs of leading with a wounded spirit.

Bitterness – A strong, unrelenting hostility or resentment toward someone is a sign bitterness has taken root in your soul. Bitterness comes from never fully processing and moving on from a situation that harmed us. The situations are common, everything from being passed up for a promotion, having someone take credit for your idea, or being blamed unfairly for something that went wrong. These things happen every day in the workplace. Do you find yourself ruminating over past hurts? Are you preoccupied with resentful thoughts about another person? If so, bitterness has gotten a hold on you and you need to shake it loose. Be bitter or get better; it’s your choice.

Un-forgiveness – When we’ve been wounded, we often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past. You can’t change what happened but you can control how you move forward. Holding on to past hurts keeps your leadership effectiveness stuck in first gear and diminishes the positive impact you can have on others.

Sarcasm – Sarcasm is one of the more subtle, socially acceptable ways wounded leaders express themselves. Often masked in humor, sarcasm can range from friendly little jabs at someone to full-on passive-aggressive attacks. We get the word sarcasm from the Greek word sarkázein which means to “rend flesh” – the ripping, pulling, or tearing apart of skin and flesh. Isn’t that a beautiful word picture! But that’s exactly the intent of sarcasm, to cut someone down, to tear at their self-esteem, or knock them down a notch to let them know you’re just a little bit better. Leaders should be focused on building others up, not tearing them down. If you frequently use sarcasm to express yourself, I’d challenge you to examine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations behind why you choose to express yourself that way.

NegativityNegative Nelly, that’s the term we use around the office for people who tend to see everything in a negative light. It doesn’t matter how good the idea might be, Negative Nelly always finds something to fault…it will cost too much, it will be too hard to implement, it’s not comprehensive enough, it’s too encompassing, it will take too long, it won’t last long enough…you know the drill. No matter what, you can’t please Negative Nelly. But more importantly, is that you? Are you Negative Nelly? Consider these questions to see if you might be letting negativity rule your leadership reactions: Is your first response to new ideas to find fault or explore how they might work? Is your default answer “no” or “yes?” Do you find yourself catching people doing something wrong instead of praising what they’re doing right? Critical, questioning, deep thinking and analysis should be a normal part of your leadership repertoire, but there is a time and place for it. If you find that negativity is your standard M.O., that’s a warning sign you haven’t dealt with underlying issues.

Apathy – Leaders can be wounded to a point where they give up. They may still show up to work and go through the motions, but their heart and soul is no longer in the job. They’ve quit and stayed. Apathy is contagious. It doesn’t affect just the leader, it affects everyone. Team members look at their apathetic leader and say to themselves, “If he doesn’t care, why should I?” I’ve seen once thriving leaders and teams slowly go downhill as the leaders experienced a series of challenges, dealt with them ineffectively, eventually grew tired and frustrated, then threw their hands up in resignation and chalked it up to “that’s just the way it is around here.” Apathy is the polar opposite of leadership. Leaders should be change agents, always on the lookout for how they can improve as individuals and how their teams can grow and become more effective.

All of us leaders are wounded in one way or another. Getting scarred from battle wounds is inevitable if you sign up for this leadership gig; you shouldn’t expect otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to find healthy, productive ways to process these experiences so you’re inner life as a leader is in good order…more on that in a future blog post.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your own experiences of leading with a wounded spirit.

After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality

I Am Not A VictimHaving someone break your trust is a painful and inevitable fact of life. There will be a number of situations during your lifetime where people will let you down, whether it’s something as innocent and unintentional as forgetting a lunch date, or as major and hurtful as a spouse seeking a divorce. You will have your trust broken. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s important is your response after trust has been broken. You have two choices: victimization or resiliency. Victimization is characterized by an attitude of powerlessness, blaming others for the negative situations in your life, believing that everyone else has it better than you, and a constant seeking of sympathy for your lot in life. Either you’ve experienced it yourself or you’ve seen it others. It’s characterized by statements like: Why me? People can’t be trusted. I can’t change my circumstances. Why is everyone against me? It’s not my fault.

The other response to having your trust broken is resiliency. Resilient people choose to embrace the power they have to make the best of their circumstances, to learn from their experiences, grow in maturity, and move toward healthier and more satisfying places in life. Statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs of resilient people include: This will make me stronger. This hurts but I’ll deal with it and move on. I’ve got so many good things to look forward to in life. I’m not going to let this get me down.

Here are five concrete ways you can move from having a victim mentality toward an attitude of resiliency:

1. Own your choices – You can’t control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond. You can choose to wallow in self-pity, depression, anger, or resentment, or you can choose to grant forgiveness, experience healing, and seek growth moving forward.

2. Quit obsessing on “why?” – Rather than asking “Why me?” when someone violates your trust, ask yourself “What can I learn?” Many times it will be impossible to know exactly why something happened the way it did, but you can always choose to view challenging circumstances in life as learning opportunities. Did you trust this person too quickly? Did you miss previous warning signs about this person’s trustworthiness? What will you do differently in the future?

3. Forgive and seek forgiveness – Years ago I heard a saying about forgiveness that has stuck with me:

Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past.

We often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. If you are the one who has broken trust or played a part in the situation, do what you can to seek forgiveness and bring healing to the relationship. It’s the right thing to do.

4. Count your blessings – People with a victim mentality often gravitate toward absolute thinking. Words like never and always frequent their conversations: I’ll never find someone I can trust. People always let me down. Life is rarely so absolute and one way to remind ourselves of that truth is to count our blessings. In the big scheme of life, most of us have many more positive things in our lives than negative. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for and you’ll realize how fortunate you really are.

5. Focus forward – Victims tend to live in the past, constantly focused on the negative things that have happened to them until this becomes their daily reality. Resilient people keep focused on moving forward. They don’t let circumstances hold them back, and they embrace whatever power they have to learn, grow, and take hold of all the good that life has to offer.

Having someone break your trust, particularly if it’s a serious betrayal, can be one of the most painful experiences in life. The easy path is to let it take you down the road of victimization where everyone and everything else becomes responsible for all the pain you encounter. The harder path is resiliency, choosing to acknowledge the pain, process it, deal with it, learn from it, and move on toward healing and growth.

Feel free to share your comments about how you’ve chosen resiliency over victimization. I’d love to learn from your wisdom.

Lack of Self-Control Erodes Trust – 5 Ways to Bolster Trust and Self-Control

Self ControlI lack self-control around donuts. Donuts are to me what kryptonite is to Superman. They render me weak, helpless, and virtually incapable of escaping their mesmerizing powers. Once I bite into the soft and fluffy baked goodness, all of my self-control goes out the window. On a Friday morning just a few weeks ago I used my expert leadership skills to organize a donut acquisition initiative (basically scrounging up money around the office and sending our gopher…errr…newest team member, to run to the local donut shop). After devouring half the box, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a donut coma, glazed and confused.

Recent research shows that our lack of self-control influences people’s perceptions of our trustworthiness. Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam conducted four different experiments to gauge the relationship between a person’s self-control and perceptions of his/her trustworthiness. In the first experiment, subjects read a story about a student with money problems who either resisted the urge to spend money for music CD’s or splurged on purchasing a whole stack. In rating the self-control and trustworthiness of the student, the subjects gave the cost-conscious student significantly higher scores on both self-control and trustworthiness than the free-spender.

In the second experiment, couples rated their partner on trustworthiness and specific behaviors related to self-control: goal achievement, reliability, and forgiveness. The most forgiving, reliable, and successful partners were rated the most trustworthy. The third and fourth experiments focused on the factors of temporary depletion of self-control and its influence on trustworthiness. Subjects were less likely to trust someone when he/she had just completed 15 minutes of a strenuous task than someone who had only spent 2 minutes on the task (measured through an economic game involving the subject).

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with a lack of self-control. Whether it’s eating too many donuts, losing our temper, running late for appointments, or failing to deliver on commitments, we all have our challenges. Here’s five steps to improve our trustworthiness through better self-control:

1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep — Being a dad has taught me the value of this lesson. If you’re a parent, how many times have you heard your child say “But Mom/Dad, you promised!” I only promise to do something that I know I’ll be able to do, otherwise I try to set clear expectations of what I’m committing to do so that I’ll be able to follow through. It’s a cliché but it’s true and effective—under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Admit your weaknesses — My team knows that I love donuts and they are a particular weakness of mine. So when I occasionally fall off the wagon and go on a donut binge, they are more forgiving and less judgmental of my actions than if I pretended to be a health food junkie and looked down on those who eat donuts. Admit your weaknesses and ask for others to help you follow-through on your good intentions.

3. Forgive yourself and others — People who forgive themselves and others are perceived as more trustworthy than those who don’t. Forgiveness reveals a vulnerable and authentic side of your self that draws people to you. Forgiveness communicates a message of understanding and empathy for someone, oftentimes because the one granting forgiveness has faced the same or similar challenges and has been granted forgiveness from others in the past.

4. Don’t react in the HEAT of the moment — It’s incredibly tempting and easy to lose self-control when you are Hungry, Emotional, Angry, or Tired. If you are experiencing any of those factors, it’s best to pause, assess the circumstances, and choose a course of action that will affirm your self-control and maintain your trustworthiness.

5. Take baby steps — In many ways self-control is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. Research has shown that taking small steps to enhance your self-control can help you resist the more tempting situations in your life. Just like trying to run a marathon without sufficient training is a recipe for failure, trying to tackle the big self-control problems you face without adequate preparation will only lead to additional failures that erode trust with yourself and the people around you.

Have you ever lost trust with someone who exhibited a lack of self-control? Feel free to leave a comment so we can learn from your experiences.

Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

Lance Armstrong“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.”

Lance Armstrong made that statement to Oprah Winfrey in his public confession this week when he finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. It’s the one statement that has stuck with me as I’ve tried to make sense of how and why someone would go to such great lengths to perpetuate a lie and intentionally deceive so many people.

Millions of people have admired Armstrong as an example of how to “Livestrong” and battle through life’s difficult circumstances. Oddly enough, even though his athletic success and personal brand image have been discovered to be a fraud, he’s still proving to be an example from whom we can learn.

Armstrong’s fall from grace offers some important life and leadership lessons:

1. Life’s not about you – Armstrong described himself as a narcissist and said it was his ruthless desire to win at all costs that drove him to be a cheater. I don’t know that I’ve witnessed a public character with such an intense self drive and singular focus (with the possible exception of Tiger Woods, and look at what happened to him) that caused him to be so egotistical and selfish. The joy of life is unleashed when we discover that true happiness comes from serving others and not ourselves.

2. Bullies eventually get what’s coming to them – A self-described bully, Armstrong vehemently condemned and intimidated anyone who stood in his way to success. He burned so many relationships on his way up, that now he finds himself alone in his shame on the way down.

3. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, you should actually be sorry – Several times Armstrong said that he was sorry and took full blame and responsibility for his actions, yet based on other comments he made and the unspoken words of his body language, he left me with the impression that he wasn’t truly remorseful for defrauding everyone. He was apologizing for the sake of apologizing, recognizing that it was the necessary first step in rebuilding his image.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Armstrong’s comeback from cancer, Tour de France victories, and life as an anti-cancer crusader seemed to be the perfect tale. He admitted to Oprah that he had devised such a fantastical narrative that it was impossible to live up to the idealistic standards he created. And millions upon millions of people bought it – hook, line, and sinker. Everyone single one of us has our faults and it’s extremely dangerous to place anyone on a pedestal as the end-all be-all example we should follow.

5. The truth will set you free – Oprah closed the interview by telling Armstrong it was her hope that he would find “the truth will set you free.” Jesus spoke those words in reference to people who choose to follow his teachings (John 8:32), meaning they would find the freedom and protection that comes from adhering to His moral principles. We all need a moral compass that keeps us oriented to true north, and Armstrong is an example of what happens when you lead without morality.

Lance Armstrong has a long way to go to rebuild trust with his followers. Is it even possible given the scope of his willful deception? I think it’s going to be hard.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike – It’s About the Truth

If life was like a bicycle, Lance Armstrong’s suddenly has two flat tires.

On the heels of being slapped with a lifetime ban from cycling and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency a few weeks ago, Armstrong resigned Wednesday as chairman of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. His resignation came as a result of the negative fallout surrounding the USADA releasing its 200 page report detailing their evidence of Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) and his role in what USADA dubbed “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong has been dropped by several of his top sponsors including Anheuser-Busch, Trek, 24-Hour Fitness, Radio Shack, and most importantly, Nike. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the company said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

I don’t know Lance Armstrong. I haven’t even read his book. But it seems clear that he’s broken trust with a lot of people who have admired him, both for his sporting accomplishments as well as his personal comeback from cancer and his efforts to fight the disease on a global basis. At this point in Armstrong’s life, he refuses to acknowledge that he’s broken trust, which is the first step in the process to restore his credibility with others. Once he’s able to acknowledge the situation, he needs to admit his wrongdoing, apologize to his legions of supporters, and then begin the process of making amends, whatever that may look like.

There is no denying the tremendous accomplishments of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the wonderful support they provide to so many people in the cancer community, yet Lance Armstrong’s personal integrity seems to be completely incongruent with the noble mission he helped found.

Integrity means you tell the truth. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat. You have honorable values and live your life in accordance with those values. You walk the talk. You’re ethical. You’re a person of character.

That’s what it means to LIVESTRONG.

If It’s Broken, Do You Fix It or Throw It Away?

When you have something that’s broken, do you fix it or throw it away? Many of the products we buy today, especially electronics, have become disposable commodities that are more cost-effective to replace than repair.

Unfortunately, this same attitude has transferred over to many other areas of lives, particularly relationships. If a relationship no longer works for us, we’re quick to throw it away and look for another one to replace it. In describing the generational attitude of her parents who recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, an acquaintance said “they are of a generation that when something broke, they fixed it instead of throwing it away.” She was specifically talking about their view on relationships, not possessions.

It got me thinking about the value we place on relationships at work. When a relationship needs repairing in the workplace, what’s your instinct? Do you try to fix it or just throw it away?

Relationships have an inherent value that goes beyond the surface-level, transactional nature of workplace interactions, and each exchange you have with a co-worker is an opportunity to enrich or degrade the relationship. My friend Jon Mertz recently wrote a blog article about the importance of understanding the type of “wake” you leave behind in your interactions with others. People interested in building high-trust relationships understand the importance of leaving behind a wake of integrity, sincerity, and authenticity in their associations with colleagues.

When it comes to repairing a broken relationship, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

Granted, it takes two people to be in relationship, and if one party isn’t willing to fix what’s broken, it may not be possible to fully repair it. However, the only thing that each of us ultimately controls is our own actions. Leading with trust means reaching for the greater good that exists within us, placing a premium value on our relationships, and making the effort to repair what’s broken rather than throwing it away. Relationships aren’t easily replaced.

Rebuilding Trust Starts With Forgiveness

Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

Two recent news articles highlight the role forgiveness has played in the lives of two men who violated the trust of others. In one situation forgiveness has led to healing and restoration. In the other, the lack of forgiveness is continuing to haunt and hinder the forward progress of those involved:

• In 2008 Tim Goeglein was a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, responsible for working with faith-based organizations, when it was discovered that he had plagiarized articles he wrote for his hometown newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Goeglein resigned knowing that his actions were wrong and reflected poorly on the President, and he figured that he would be treated as persona-non-grata and be ostracized from the White House forever. However, within days of the incident, President Bush met personally with Goeglein with the express intent of extending forgiveness. Goeglein has gone on to have a successful career and currently collaborates with President Obama on his fatherhood initiative.

• Thirteen years ago Stephen Glass was a wunderkind journalist at The New Republic magazine. With his career on a meteoric rise, it was discovered that he had fabricated quotes, anecdotes, and even entire articles. From 1995-1998 Glass fabricated 43 stories appearing in several different publications. Glass has reportedly straightened his life out with the help of intense counseling, received a law degree from Georgetown, and passed the bar exams in both New York and California. However, his admittance to the California Bar has been delayed the last five years over ongoing concerns about his ethical standards. Forgiveness still awaits him as he currently works as a paralegal.

As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.
  • Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.
  • Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.
  • Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.
  • Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.
  • Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. Like the example of Tim Goeglein, forgiveness can lead to healing and success. On the flip side, Stephen Glass continues to struggle in overcoming his past breaches of trust because forgiveness has not been granted. The choice is yours. Will you choose to forgive?

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