Learning to Apologize When You Are Wrong

Apologize The other day, I had a conversation with a young leader who was planning to leave her organization.  When I asked why, she told me that she had been blamed for a situation involving a patient’s family when she was not involved.  The senior leadership were very upset about the controversy surrounding a communication with the family.  The family, she told me, had totally misunderstood what the staff was try to tell them.  Because the patient was a significant donor to the hospital, the repercussions were swift and she was blamed for failing to control her staff.  Even when facts came out that indicated that she was correct and her administration had overreacted – there was no apology.  She said she felt very devalued.  It can be very difficult for some leaders to apologize when they are wrong but this is an important leadership skill to learn.

When leaders make mistakes and judge too quickly, they may feel that their followers will get over it quickly and their actions were inconsequential.  Nothing is could be further from the truth and it can result in an employee leaving an organization because of a lack of trust.   Leadership expert Michael Hyatt describes 4 sentences that every leader should have in his/her vocabulary and be willing to say them:

1.  I’m sorry

Hyatt contends that this simple sentence can set everything in motion to make an authentic apology.  With it, we take 100% accountability for our actions.  Instead most leaders will say I’m sorry BUT which deflects responsibility away from themselves and builds excuses for their behavior.  I’m sorry is what it takes to initiate the repair of a relationship.

2.  I know that hurt

To effectively apologize, you must acknowledge that you have caused pain.  This conveys empathy and the willingness to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what they felt.  It is best when done proactively and not in response to being caught in a situation where you have to apologize and look less authentic.

3.  I was wrong

This Hyatt says is the most difficult statement of all for most leaders.  The reality  is that you will sometimes wrong and admitting this can be a very powerful message to staff.  Don’t ever assumed as a leader that you will be given a pass when you make a mistake because you are in a high stress job and staff know it.

4.  Will you forgive me?

This is not a statement such as Please Forgive Me but a question and a powerful one.  By saying this – you acknowledge that forgiveness is not an entitlement but a choice on the part of the other person.  They may choose to withhold their forgiveness but this is a risk that you need to take.  Too often leaders will say instead “I’m sorry if I offended you” which implies the other person is the one with the issue.

As leaders, all of us will have a lot of opportunities to apologize on leadership journey.  We need to work hard to get better at it and commit ourselves to reconciling broken relationships.  Hyatt believes strongly that if you don’t do this, you will never win the heart of your team and development the type of alignment that you need to build excellent outcomes.  Nothing gets in the way of success like broken relationship.  The path to healing begins when a leader learns to apologize when he or she is wrong.


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