How Leaders Should Apologize (without making things worse!)

Author

Shellie Karabell, Contributor

April 4, 2015

There is just nowhere to hide these days. Social media has put pay to the thin belief that we can get away with little fibs, or that our inoffensively meant egregious statements won’t offend anyone, or that those photos won’t surface, or that people won’t remember what really happened to the helicopter you were riding in in Iraq ten years ago.

And being caught out means a never-ending parade of public (social media) apologies, to which we willingly subject ourselves, having been victimized” in the first place. When it is a leader or a public figure doing the mea culpa of course he or she is more susceptible to ridicule than those of us who can apologize quietly and in person. Sometimes the apologizer brings it on himself by making a mess of his public contrition.

We could take a page from management professor Ken Blanchard (literally from his The One Minute Manager) and adapt his theory of the one minute criticism – scold ‘em, tell ‘em they still have talent, tell ‘em you love ‘em, and make it brief – to the art of the apology. But Julian Barling, a chaired leadership professor at Queen’s School of Business in Canada, actually spells it out in a column for the Toronto Globe & Mail’s leadership lab series.

I borrow his ten leadership principles (5 dos and 5 don’ts) for effective apologizing here and embellish them a bit through my own experience.

The Dos:

1. Show remorse. “I am sorry” is a good way to start. But these words are only the beginning of the apology – not the whole thing.

2. Take responsibility. No finger-pointing or excuse-making or “if onlys.”

3. Show empathy. Your followers need to know that you know you let them down. This is what you are sorry for.

4. Plan restoration. What are you going to do to make everything right again? The restoration must measure up to what you did wrong: if your mistake caused your team to work through dinner and miss out on family time, dinner vouchers would probably be much appreciated. Repairing public humiliation will take a bit more.

5. Lay out a plan of action. What are you going to do to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again? Then do it.

The Don’ts:

1. Don’t ramble. This is where Blanchard’s one-minute theory works – make it brief and to the point and make it clear because this is what people will remember. Rehearse. Get it right b because you can’t take it back and then re-do it. Like some people.

2. Don’t be conditional. It’s not “If I offended anyone…” If you didn’t offend anyone, why are you making an apology? Being “conditional” suggests the people to whom you are apologizing did something wrong by reacting unreasonably. This is not about their reactions; it’s about your actions.

3. Don’t explain. It will come across as an excuse. You don’t need to educate the people to whom you are apologizing; you need show them you’ve learned something from your error.

4. Don’t ask for forgiveness. This is a self-serving ego trip and makes your followers responsible for your feelings. You’re supposed to be addressing their hurt feelings, not your s.

5. Don’t apologize if you can’t live up to the apology. Otherwise, you’re being hypocritical. Barling remembers the case of Toyota CEO and President Akio Toyoda who, after apologizing at a public press conference in 2010 for Toyota safety issues, left the meeting room and drove away…in an Audi.

People have been watching you ever since you committed those actions that led to this apology in the first place. And they will continue to scrutinize you until the incident fades from memory. The shorter, more targeted and more authentic your apology, the sooner all will be forgotten if not actually forgiven.

Follow me on Twitter: @skarabell1

This article was written by Shellie Karabell from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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