The Power of Pre-Forgiveness

Occasionally I am taught or introduced to an idea or insight that I find so profound that I blog about it. Frequently.

Today is such a day on our 150th On Leadership podcast episode featuring Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt, author of The Gift of Forgiveness.

We hear a lot about the power of forgiveness. For them and for us. Let’s take it a step further.

When I joined FranklinCovey over 25 years ago, I was hired into the education division as a frontline sales contributor working with school districts and universities selling and implementing our solutions across the nation. My entrance into the firm was a life-changing experience for me, having just moved from Orlando, Florida, to Provo, Utah. It was a significant life event for me in many ways.

One of the most memorable lessons I learned joining the company was introduced to me by the divisional vice president, Chuck Farnsworth. I’d come from a nearly four-year career at The Disney Development Company, which had extraordinary quality standards (and leadership that had no issue enforcing them!). But Chuck’s concept, really a cultural imperative, was pre-forgiveness—an idea I had never even heard of. Associates in Chuck’s division were pre-forgiven. For every mistake. Every miss. Every shortfall. Every interpersonal slight. Every dumb thing said or done.

Pre-forgiven? Meaning I could do and say whatever I want with no consequence?

Hardly.

There was a cultural implication from working in a pre-forgiveness environment. It released everyone from the looming anxiety of fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of taking any risks. Fear of trying new things or stepping out beyond the norm. There was zero fear in this division. When your leader comes to you and acknowledges that you’re going to make mistakes, it’s like a massive weight is taken off your shoulders. It’s inevitable with growth that there will be misses. With projects, clients and your own associates. Whew. Thanks for the breathing room.

But what’s most interesting is what happened next. Some reading this might think it was the Wild West with missed commitments, wrong prices quoted to clients, human resources complaints on the rise.

Nope.

The opposite happened. With this newfound psychological air and freedom in place, nobody wanted to disappoint the leader by needing to “cash in” the pre-forgiveness chips. You simply wanted to ensure your efforts exceeded his expectations, and if you did in fact need to be “pre-forgiven,” it was rare—if ever. Simply put, you wanted to raise the bar on your own behavior and contribution, thus raising the bar for everyone.

A simple but profound leadership concept. Try this with your team today.

Are they pre-forgiven? Heck, try it with your spouse/partner, kids, or even your mother-in-law. You (and they) might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the trust grows when you focus on operating with a pre-forgiveness mindset.


Building a culture of trust starts with a shared vocabulary of simple, yet powerful phrases that leaders use to express gratitude, offer compassion, and provide support. Here are 10 phrases leaders use to build trust with team members.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Release, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. Previously, Scott worked for the Disney Development Company and grew up in Central Florida. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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