As a leader, we will make mistakes or behave (in a moment of anger or frustration) inappropriately. The usual response is to blame someone else, ignore the mistake or minimize the bad behavior, and then just move on.
“I have many faults but being wrong is not one of them.” Jimmy Hoffa
“I was wrrrr. I was wrrrr. I was wrrrr…” The Fonz from Happy Days (Unable to admit that he was wrong)
Such behavior is destructive to our team and the culture we are all trying to build.
- Everyone knows that the mistake was made or that the incident occurred
- We are dodging accountability for our actions
- We weaken our standing among our employees
- We miss an opportunity to learn from the mistake or critically evaluate our behavior.
Unfortunately, too many leaders and too many politicians are like Jimmy Hoffa and the Fonz. We do not have the courage and the humility to admit our mistakes and apologize. But, as Wharton Management Professor Maurice Schweitzer writes, apologies can move our companies forward.
“People are afraid to apologize for two reasons: one is loss of status; the other is that apologizing makes you more vulnerable. And yet apologies are incredibly powerful in terms of rebuilding a relationship. They help people move beyond an error. They restore a sense of rapport among the parties involved.”
As leaders, we must instead be forthright, apologize for our mistake or bad behavior and any pain or difficulty that it caused, and resolve to learn from what happened and do better.
“I apologize for the way that I reacted in our meeting on Monday. My behavior was uncalled for and did not live up to the standards I have set for myself. I am sorry and will work hard to earn back your respect and always behave respectfully and in line with our company’s values. Thank you and please accept my apology.”
With such an apology, the door is now open for us, as leaders, to examine our behavior, to evaluate why the mistake occurred, to learn, and to move on.
The final stage of any apology is to do better – to behave better and to make better decisions. In the words of the immortal philosopher Jay-Z:
“The best apology is changed behavior.”