How Should Leaders Apologize?

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How should leaders apologize?

In a recent Leader Feeder episode, I discussed that one of the first steps to rebuild trust is to offer a sincere apology.

A recent study revealed helpful suggestions on the difference between an ineffective and effective apology.

Although we live in a world of second chances, you still want to help others give you that second chance by making an effective apology. Share on X

Whether you watch a politician, an actor or a business executive apologize, there are clear differences between good and bad apologies. When you apologize, it can be tempting to make excuses as to why circumstances contributed to you doing or saying something inappropriate. However, science shows that people are less likely to forgive you when you blame circumstances, and in fact, they don’t want to hear your excuses. The most effective apologies focus on the victims. People want to hear that you understand how your words or actions affected others.

Effective vs Ineffective Apologies

Let’s look at two examples of an apology that a front line leader might have to make in front of their team.

Let’s say the leader has promised the team that they’ll be able to leave early if they achieve a certain target and the leader then wasn’t able to make that happen. The less effective apology would sound like, “Guys, I wasn’t able to give you the time off I promised. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I promised some things I shouldn’t have, and then management didn’t back me up.”

That kind of apology isn’t going to sit well with your team.

A more effective apology would be, “Guys, I wasn’t able to give you the time off that I promised. I know this is a let down for you as many of you might have made plans for getting off early. It turns out I shouldn’t have made the promise in the first place. In the future, I’m going to do a better job of making promises I can keep.”

As a leader, you shouldn’t be apologizing often. But when you do need to apologize, make sure that you avoid excuses and focus instead on how it impacts the team. They’ll forgive you more quickly and they’ll be more willing to trust you next time.

Front Line Leaders, build an effective and high-performance team! Join our next public workshop in London, Canada on April 10 & 11. Sign up here!

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