Forgiveness is said to be one of the most precious gifts we can bestow on others. More valuable than gold. More precious than diamonds. And an even more personal gift than personalised socks. When it comes to recipients, there are few things they want more than the notion of forgiveness.

If any of you have been wronged in your life, and I assume you are a human being if you are reading this. The answer is “yes”, you will also know it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to forgive… Suppose you have been lied to, cheated on, attacked, hurt or even cut in front of in a supermarket queue when you’re in a rush. In that case, you’ll know that forgiveness is hardly ever a reflex response. Maybe that is why forgiveness is so precious. Perhaps that is why forgiveness is so rare.

As a fellow human… and I bet you’re thinking “that’s exactly what a robot would say if they wanted to convince you they weren’t a robot…” so bare with me… as a fellow human I have come across behaviors I have found unforgivable… and they might not all be what you think.

My name is Andrew Sillitoe, and this is my blog, which we have decided to call “The Unforgivable (And How To Avoid It)”. Thanks so much for joining us. Please keep reading. Because if you choose to stop here, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to forgive you…

When I was Head Coach at Team GB, some things would cause me to flip from a kindly, charismatic and cool-headed leader…I should let you know these are only assumptions, not direct quotes from my players, anyway. There were things that my players did that would make me extremely angry. And you really wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

I was a passionate leader. I make no excuses or apologies for that. But the times my players were on the receiving end of my fury was not after they fluffed a shot or when they kept hold of the puck for longer than they should have. My wrath was not a result of us losing matches or because interceptions were missed.

I am competitive but not delusional. I know that losses are part of the game. I know that pressure causes the best players to buckle. So what made me so mad at my players? What did they do to make the red mist form? It might not be what you think.

A friend of mine who has worked in hospitality all of her adult life says you can always tell which customers have worked a minimum wage and those who haven’t.

She says you should judge a person, not how they are to you or even under pressure. She told me how you describe what a person is made of by treating the waiting staff. I can’t help but agree.

When my players found themselves in my bad books, it was because they were making decisions that were actively against our values. These behaviours I find impossibly challenging.

All the technical stuff like mistiming passes and not blocking shots well is coachable. When you make a decision that negatively affects the Team because of your attitude? Thumbs down from me. I have said “thumbs down” because I think it makes me sound playful and a little bit cartoonish, and I would rather you imagine me this way instead of the borderline monster when my players left the dressing room in a state or repeatedly turned up late to practice.

I find these behaviours unforgivable. I know “unforgivable” is a pretty weighty word for actions as seemingly trivial as “Not helping the equipment manager out after practice”, but I think it reflects what my friend said about hospitality. It shows who you are. Are you being kind to someone because you want something from them? Career progression, a raise, a date? Or are you kind to someone because it is the right thing to do? I hope it is the latter. But whatever your reason, you should always be kind.

As a business leader, I want to be a good example. As a parent, I want to be a good example. As a human being (again, I promise, I am not a robot), I want to be a good example.

So does Lionel Messi, who has said, “I am more worried about being a good person than being the best football player in the world”.

I love this thought. Not only because Lionel Messi is the best footballer in the world, but his quote could also be interpreted as him saying, “I am the best footballer, and I don’t even need to worry about it”, although I don’t think that is the case. I think I love this quote so much because Messi recognises that however good he is on the pitch, it all becomes pretty worthless if you’ve not got kindness on your side.

I’m sure you know that as a business leader, you have only a hundred different things to think about on good days. You are responsible for steering the ship, mending the leaks, motivating the crew and deciding the destination and purpose of your voyage. If any of you are wondering, yes, one of the favourite bedtime books in our house at the moment is Sinbad the Sailor. But even with all of those important, stressful responsibilities that are put on the shoulders of leaders, you get to choose how you do it.

I am not interested in a “do as I say, not as I do” leader. I am not impressed by people who think they are “too important” to make someone a cup of tea or hold the door open for those behind them. We need to keep those behaviours to account. No one is above kindness, nor should they be. That is why I found it so challenging when my players in Team GB let themselves and the Team down by coming to practice with the wrong attitude.

Of course, everyone has their bad days. Everyone has those days where you get out of bed on the wrong side, pour orange juice into your cereal, spill your coffee down yourself, miss your train, arrive late, call the person leading the meeting Mum and forget to turn your phone on mute during a presentation. It happens. But if you allow your bad day to affect other people’s day by throwing your toys out of the pram, that’s making it everyone else’s problem too. That is unforgivable.

I am writing this blog during a challenging and troublesome time in the world. I am aware that this statement could be applied to any moment within the past five years, but it is especially true now. Some leaders have forgotten to set a positive example. Some leaders believe they are above the law. Some leaders think they’re above criticism. Let’s remind them that they are not. Let’s use our platforms to promote teamwork, kindness and community.

As leaders, we can make a positive difference in our community. I think you do too. Let’s prove it with our actions. Help the Equipment Manager. Be polite to your server. Hold the door open for the people behind you. It costs you nothing. It can mean everything.

My name is Andrew Sillitoe. Thank you for reading. It has made me happy, which is good because you won’t like me when I’m angry.


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