Eating Crow, Or Showing Good Leadership?
I planned to cover a different topic for this issue of the McKenzie e-newsletter. But when I picked up the Wall Street Journal and saw the headlines, I just had to write this article.
“I Screwed Up...My Job Is to Get This Thing Back on Track,” President Says
Party affiliation and mainstream politics aside, you will agree that the power of an apology is to restore dignity, trust and a sense of justice. Research shows that contrary to the fear that apologies are a sign of weakness, leaders who apologize are seen in a more favorable light than those who don’t take responsibility for their actions. Apologies have profound influences on both the giver and the recipient. That does not mean you need to say mea culpa for everything. In fact, there are indications that too many “I’m sorrys” are bad—selectivity is the key. So why, when and how should a leader apologize?
1. The offense is serious.
2. The wrongdoing was your fault.
3. Be prompt.
4. Be explicit, be brief and be sincere.
Depending on the offense and your skill level, it helps to write out your apology and practice it. Be sure your body language matches your words. Avoid crossed arms or pointing fingers. Make eye contact.
If you offended someone in private, apologize quietly to that person. However, if your transgression was done in front of others, you’ll be more effective by apologizing in public.
5. Be patient.
6. Be committed and consistent.
Good leaders are human and humans all make mistakes. Owning up to them is the important thing. When (not if) you need to apologize, step up to the plate and show integrity. You’ll strengthen your leadership by modeling responsibility and accountability. You’ll improve relationships. You’ll build trust with your staff.
There is more anecdotal evidence than hard data about what apologies accomplish, but research suggests that leaders are prone to overestimating the costs of apologies and underestimating the benefits. Apologizing is difficult because it confronts us with our foibles and vulnerabilities, but when you show leadership courage, great things can happen.
Dr. Haller is the Leadership Coach at McKenzie Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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