THE FINE ART OF APOLOGY There are many skills essential for great leadership, and none of them are much more important than learning to recognize errors, accept responsibility, and sincerely and appropriately apologize. Even the greatest leader blows it from time to time, and the only way to maintain credibility as a leader is to refuse cover-up, blaming, or rationalizing. Face it head on and shoulder the responsibility for handling the situation well. Apologizing requires courage. And everyone wants to follow a courageous leader. There are a few mistakes that leaders are particularly prone to make. Some of them come so naturally, we don’t even realize we are destroying our credibility and the morale of our team. But they are devastating in their consequences. Of course we need to learn to not make these mistakes as a part of our style, but we also need to quickly apologize for any that mistakenly creep in to our leadership. Let’s look at a few:
SHOWING FAVORITISM. Everyone needs to be valued. It is very demoralizing to feel that you work hard and capably, yet someone else already has the inside track with the leader. When someone is courageous enough to point out that you appear to favor one over another, deflecting, defending, and explaining does little good to repair. Genuine repentance and sorrow for making them feel undervalued is the only hope.
KEEPING A TEAM MEMBER OUT OF THE LOOP. Leaders who deliberately keep someone out of the communication cycle or even accidentally overlook someone have created an issue that must be owned and fixed. Communicating with EVERYONE at the first opportunity is vital. Poor leaders are excluders, good leaders are 'includers'.
TAKING CREDIT FOR WORK OR IDEAS THAT WERE NOT YOURS. A leader never makes himself look stronger or better by making sure he gets credit. When you go even further and take credit for something you don’t do, you cut off your own legs. Sometimes someone else will give you credit you know is not yours. The great leader will always set it right.
MAKING EMAIL DEMANDS. It’s easy to handle difficult situations through email. It hardly ever goes well. Hurt feelings almost always ensue. People don’t like to work for or work demanding people they don’t like.
CREATING DIVISION. You may quite accidentally set team members against each other. This is very easy to happen when you cover or an underperforming employee, or lower standards behind the scenes. Division usually starts with minor issues that aren’t handled quickly and well.
EMBARRASSING A TEAM MEMBER. You called for information without warning, you confronted them in anger, you made a false accusation, you gossiped. An idle comment can do drastic damage. It is far better to come to the deal or decision more slowly and keep relationships intact. Communicating directly and with calm and courtesy moves you forward faster and with stability for the long run.
No leader is perfect. If you do make a mistake, make sure you fess up appropriately as soon as possible. The problem with those who lead poorly is they tend to let things slide and don't do the hard work of following up, asking questions, and apologizing when needed.So what does an appropriate apology look like?I’m sorry: this is the centerpiece of a genuine apology. It’s the stake in the ground to communicate that you truly regret your behavior and wish you had acted differently. No apology is complete without this.Make “I statements”: Your apology is virtually worthless if you say “I’m sorry you misunderstood me” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” You are correcting their feelings instead of apologizing for you actions. Suddenly, you’re no longer apologizing for your actions; you’re telling the other person that you regret their actions or feelings. A true apology is a simple, “I’m sorry I….”Make no excuses: Let the apology stand on its own. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t keep my promise, but I had so much on my plate” is more of an invitation for the person to feel sorry for you. Just say, “I am so sorry I let you down.”Commit to fixing it and avoiding the same mistake in the future: This seals the deal. If you genuinely regret your words or actions, you’ll to commit to changing. This needs to be simple, feasible and specific. “I am sorry I didn’t keep my promise. I will get that material to you by Monday, and from now on I will track my schedule of getting things to you regularly on Monday.”Actually keep your word. Make the changes: Some people can say “I’m sorry” very easily, but they might as well not have. They don’t follow through. If you apologize and say you are going to act differently and you don’t. It actually makes things worse. Your leadership becomes untrustworthy across the board. Great leaders DO make mistakes. Then they make apologies. Then they make changes.