Forgive yourself for making tough business decisions

How do business owners deal with the emotional and mental toll of making hard decisions that impact employees?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lindsay Harle-KadatzMy business coach asked me to forgive myself for some very hard decisions I made for my business. This was the first truly difficult task he gave me.

How could I forgive myself for a decision that seemingly hurt others?

Yet leaders are always having to make choices that may hurt someone’s livelihood.

With no way to know all the decisions to make for a business pivot until you actually have to make them, should leaders carry internal blame for the decisions required to survive in this new economy?

Even for business owners who enacted protocols already prepared in the event of a global pandemic, the reality of enforcing these decisions leaves a heavy mark.

Decisions that involve laying off entire teams, cutting employee hours, shutting down previously thriving stores, choosing to stop projects suited for other markets – every one of these requires someone to make the decision to go ahead. In many cases, it’s the same person.

The stress of questions like “How can I afford to stay open?” and “How do I pay my staff?” takes its toll.

In fact, it has taken its toll long before COVID-19, as illustrated in the Canadian Mental Health Association 2019 report Going it Alone. It notes that three out of five entrepreneurs feel depressed once a week. Once a week!

And a 2018 ATB study showed that 71 per cent of owners place their business needs ahead of their own.

Stress due to business ownership has always been there. Sudden business pivots and changing conditions merely bring new focus on owners who have a healthy relationship with their emotions and those who don’t – and those who forgive themselves in order to move forward.

In my search to understand what it means to forgive, I studied the root meanings of the word itself. The gist is this: to forgive means to let go, to voluntarily release, to set free.

What surprised me was not a single article attached blame to the word itself. Therein lies the issue – humans tend to associate forgiveness with an act to blame. Leaders blame themselves for a blameless situation.

This helps us understand why it’s easier to forgive others than it is ourselves.

A number of my colleagues had to lay off staff. They all find it easier to offer compassion and forgiveness to their colleagues who had to do the same, but they’re still not able to offer this same grace to themselves.

The issue isn’t that they had to lay off staff; it’s that they relive the decision over and over, blaming themselves, thinking they could have done something differently.

The truth is, all they need to forgive is the situation itself.

By tying blame to forgiving the decisions that had to be made, leaders aren’t able to move forward. So they lower their chances for business survival.

In letting go of the blame, leaders can now move forward. They have truly forgiven the situation, creating space for new thoughts, growth and inspiration. They also demonstrate real human leadership to those team members who are still there.

There’s no one manual on how to forgive yourself – it’s an individual process. My best recommendation for owners holding guilt is to simply understand that decisions must be made to keep your business running. Decisions aren’t meant to be heartless.

You too are a human who deserves compassion as you work toward what you set out to do with your business. Be willing to forgive the circumstances that you found your business in.

Trust that you’re making the decision that will help you achieve your long-term business vision, based on the information in front of you. It will be a process of letting go without placing blame.

In reality, it’s a decision to release and keep moving forward. And this is what business ownership is.

How have you learned to forgive yourself as a leader? Share your insights and questions with Lindsay at

Lindsay Harle-Kadatz is a brand strategist and content developer, supporting small businesses turn their content into more time, money, and relationships. Follow Lindsay on LinkedIn:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Lindsay Harle-Kadatz

Lindsay Harle-Kadatz is the owner of The Write Harle, helping small businesses turn their content into more time, money, and relationships through the power of original brands and strategy. In everything, she infuses humour with process, creativity, and results.

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