Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Of Revenge"

The most unproductive urge in management is revenge. It is an irrational emotion created by a perceived injustice and it produces irrational behaviour with wasted energy. Over many years of mentoring and coaching I've seen hundreds of managers squander their leadership currency by dwelling on a grudge. 

There is no room for revenge in business. Revenge is like quicksand: the angrier you get, the faster you sink. I've always told folks that history is over, so get over it. Move on: build, create, and forgive. Of course that advice is easier said than done. So over the years I've looked for published material to help prevent folks from sinking in the revenge quicksand. 

There is a lot of well-written business material to provide guidance, but I have never found anything with much lasting impact until a few weeks ago. I was helping my son with an essay on Hamlet, a play centred around a character tortured by the need to seek revenge. In the process of researching the paper my son came across a wonderful quote from a Francis Bacon essay titled "Of Revenge": 
"Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon."
The essay containing this quote was written over 400 years ago, yet it has enduring truth for current managers. We all feel wronged at times during the course of leading in an organization. Whether we get passed over for a promotion, cheated out of a bonus, or caught in a downsizing.  Dwelling on the event is fruitless. Focusing on the negative simply throws you into the infinite vortex of despair. 

Focus on what you are going to do next. The past may be prologue. But it has passed. The future will only start when you rise above the irrelevant self-imposed prison created by wanting revenge. The future belongs to the optimist.



  1. But revenge and payback are so satisfying!


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