The Art Of The Apology
There are generally three types of leaders:
- Those that are good at recognizing their mistakes and apologizing
- Those that recognize mistakes when brought to their attention, but poorly apologize
- Those that will never apologize because they don’t admit their mistakes
The first group of leaders are a rare bunch. They are willing to be quick to see or respond to errors they make, and will rectify and admit fault. These leaders are truly humble and think outside of themselves for the good of the organizational.
The third group is not willing to see their mistakes. As a result, apologizing never comes, because they will defend their position and not allow themselves the necessary humility to make amends and grow beyond where they are.
But the second group, those who will recognize their errors when brought up, may need some guidance on how to remedy these situations. While it is foundation for them to see their mistakes, this can be undone with a poor or insincere apology and steps to fix it. A leader can use this moment to solidify their leadership or water their influence down.
Here are some key ways for leaders to properly apologize and rectify their errors:
- Open up to all the evidence. See and listen to what occurred. Own it. Be willing to get all the facts as to where you went wrong so you know what needs to be corrected. A painful step, sometimes, but all growth comes with some pain and stretching.
- Think about what you did and what can be done better. Know that you know what you did, see what you could have done to prevent it, or at least fix the situation form this point forward. Look for improvement opportunities to avoid similar failures down the road.
- Seek those you’ve wronged or negatively impacted. Almost every mistake impacts others directly or indirectly. Especially in matters where poor judgment negatively affected other people, seek them out and tell them you’re sorry for what you did. By taking initiative you show the type of leader you are and show ownership of rebuilding confidence of your team.
- Be sincere. Others understanding of the situation may not be 100% accurate, but if you say “I’m sorry you feel that way” you have invalidated their concern in the matter. Make it all about what you did, and never about the other person’s viewpoint. The sincerity you show will also telegraph if your people will believe you and give you a chance to fix it.
- Ask for understanding. By asking for forgiveness, patience, and assistance, you can let your team know that you are willing to seek some help and accountability in not making the same mistake again. Or even if you do, that you’re working towards mastery to the behavior or skill that you’ve fallen short on. If you have their trust and confidence, you will be amazed at what your team will help you grow towards.
- Keep posture. Stay a leader but be human. Don’t allow this situation to cast self-doubt in your ability to be in your role. And don’t apologize so much that they see you as beaten down and ineffective. Tell them how you plan to fix this form this point forward, and move onward. Know that this was a mistake to work on, but don;t dwell and talk about it ad nauseum. Keep the focus on the organization’s vision and goals, and not your failings, so you can prove your leadership ability even through a hiccup in your performance.
Apologizing is more than an “I’m sorry.” What goes into it, and evolves from it, separates the nominal leaders from the truly great ones. Become greater by mastering the art of the apology.