Learning to apologize in a leadership role requires a good deal of courage. It’s not comfortable for any of us to admit an error, or to acknowledge that something we’ve done has caused others harm or inconvenience. So when leaders do apologize, we know he or she is putting honesty and honor above personal comfort or self-protection. It’s inspiring, and it feels brave. We know that honesty and trust are key ingredients that staff look for in their leaders. The failure to apologize when you are wrong can lead staff to feel 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.