I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:1-2

Grudges bear no fruit. They deteriorate relationships.

But, grudges can be hard to root out and cut away in a workplace. Grudging behaviors may be subtle, but their impact isn’t. When people bear ill will toward one another, it erodes trust and psychological safety. It puts people on edge, fuels judgment, and undermines productivity. Grudges poison passion, turning teams into branches that cannot bear fruit.

As a servant leader, you can help your people learn how to release their grudges against one another so that they can enjoy working (and being) together again.

Here is how:

  1. Honestly Assess Your Own Relationships

Do you yourself hold any grudges at work?

Consider each of your relationships. Hold them up – hold your heart up — to the light of day.

What do you see?

Leaders are only human. You are only human. It’s understandable that you would have feelings of reluctance or resentment toward the people you lead every now and then.

Before you can lead others to release their grudges, you must do the courageous work of releasing your own.

Trace your negative feelings back. What caused them? Why, exactly, do you find someone irritating or untrustworthy? Whatever conversation you need to have – with God, with yourself, or with the other person – have it. Likely, you need to have all three of those conversations.

As you pray and converse, invite grace into your relationship. Invite forgiveness. Start fresh again. Feel the powerful change that grace and forgiveness provide.

When you release a grudge, you do change. You become more credible and helpful when you step in to help others release their grudges. You know all about the spiritual growth that must take place in order to mend bridges, and you’re positioned to lead others through that work.

No branch can bear fruit by itself (John 15:4)

  1. Set Your Expectations

Now that you’ve shown yourself how to release a grudge, you can set an expectation for others to do so.

Be transparent with your teams about the impact you’ve witnessed grudges having on your shared work and culture. Let them know about the journey you’ve been on; the inner work you’ve been doing to release your lingering negativity about the past.

Paint a detailed picture of how grudges undermine the spirit of servant leadership you are all working so hard to cultivate, as well as the positive relationships and performance that will result when grudges are eliminated.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

  1. Ask for Guidance

What do your employees need from you in order to release their grudges, leave the past behind, and move forward in fruitful relationships?

You won’t know until you ask.

For some, simply setting your expectations will be enough. They’ll realize right away how pointless it’s been to hold on to hurts from petty slights. For others, you may need to provide deeper support. There may be relationships in your workplace that have become so eroded by distrust that you’ll need to create a safe environment for the constructive airing of grievances and rebuilding of trust and respect.

Ask your employees how you can best serve them. Make yourself available and approachable. Reiterate that you’ve been working hard on releasing the past so that you can move forward, and that you stand ready to help them do the same, in whatever way they need.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

  1. Confirm Commitments

You’ve set your expectations that grudges must be worked through and released in your workplace. You’ve offered your support. Now, ask for your employees’ commitment in eradicating reluctance, resentment, and ill will from every single relationship in your culture.

Be bold about this request. Be the face of the campaign. Do whatever you have to do to lift this critical work to the forefront of people’s minds.

I chose you and appointed you that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:16)

  1. Embrace the Journey

The truth?

Grudges will still linger in your workplace. You’ll think people have let go of the past, only to be disappointed. Interpersonal tension will still hijack meetings and stifle workflows.

Even worse?

You’ll think you have let go of the past…only to be disappointed. You’ll find yourself still losing patience with some employees for no good reason.

If servant leadership was easy, there would be far more servant leaders!

The most important thing to remember is that in setting a standard and committing to the work of servant leadership, you are fulfilling your potential. It’s okay if you still struggle and your employees still struggle. It’s okay if your emotions get the better of you, and grudges still rear their ugly heads in times of stress. Embrace your humanity. Then, begin again.

Every day – every hour – is a pristine opportunity to make Jesus smile with how you lead.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. (John 15:19)