Forgive and Refresh: Returning to The Leader You "Meant to Be"

Today, Rosh Hashanah, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Although I am not Jewish, I am intrigued by the concepts surrounding this holiday, particularly the ritual of teshuva – a time to forgive and seek forgiveness.

When making teshuva, people reflect on the year and consider the people from whom they need forgiveness and then go about making things right. The concept offers spiritual complexities and beliefs that may be deeply meaningful for some readers, and disturbing for others.

So I invite readers of all faiths and beliefs to join me in exploring the concept of teshuva more pragmatically and from a leadership point of view.

What is Teshuva?

According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, teshuva is dry cleaning for the soul:

“Teshuva literally means return. When we do teshuva, we examine our ways, identify those areas where we are losing ground, and return to our own previous state of spiritual purity.”

In his collection, Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains how this tradition gives people a chance to reflect on what they “meant to be”.

Teshuva, the act of returning to whom you meant to be, can change who we were. It cannot change what we did, but it can change the meaning of what we did. In so doing, it can change the future.

Don’t make teshuva because it will make some pain go away. Make teshuva because it will send you back to who you were, change it into who you meant to be, and in so doing change you into whom you still might become.

Obviously, we cannot undo the past. What is done is done. But what we do now about what did then, while not altering the past deed itself, can place it in a new context of meaning.

For example, we may have injured someone with a thoughtless remark long ago. Now we not only acknowledge, regret and repudiate what we did, we devote ourselves to repairing the damage.

Forgiveness for Leaders

In thinking of my own leadership journey and reflecting on my last year, I think of all the times I could have:

  • been more patient
  • said things in a different way
  • asked more questions
  • not freaked out
  • taken on more of the burden
  • paid a bit more attention to someone in need
  • listened more intently
  • been more available
  • responded more quickly
  • thought twice before speaking
  • provided more recognition
  • included more people

From whom do you need forgiveness?
How will you?

Who needs you to forgive them?
How will you?

For what do you need to forgive yourself?
How will you?

What is it that you need to “just let go”?
How will you?

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. What’s served me the most is learning to let go.

    Hanging on to what’s happened in the past zaps energy. It takes energy to hold a grudge. It takes energy to think about the past.

    What best serves me is to surrender. Forgive and march forward. I’m so much lighter.

  2. I speak and teach about the concept of fulfillment – not just success, but deep satisfaction and a sense of true significance. The biggest challenge that I have seen in the pursuit of fulfillment is not forgiving. It is only in forgiveness that we can return to our innate trueness of love. What I have learned is that even when I believe I am forgiving other, what I am really doing is honoring myself, letting go of the judgements and the need to hold the other person and my own heart in prison. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks our geninue feelings of joy, peace, harmony and love!

  3. Thanks Karin for the insightful comments. One of the things I find most powerful about Teshuva is the need to fully admit what you have done wrong, not only to yourself but the person wronged. And, (this is the hard part) not to do the same thing again. The key to Teshuva, as you rightly state, is making that inner connection to bring about outer change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.