Last week, I asked our readers whether or not a manager/leader should apologize. Although most responses overwhelmingly lean toward the affirmative, I think it is slightly more complicated than that.
Do I think managers should apologize? Yes… and uh… well… sometimes no.
On the other hand, if you have a manager that does apologize, consider it a bonus! It’s important that you accept the apology with grace and appreciation. Don’t take it as a sign of weakness, and don’t, in any way, try to use it against them.
I think the best leaders position themselves effectively with the way they think, speak, and behave. They often make good decisions and seldom put themselves in a negative position… therefore, they rarely have to apologize. It isn’t that they are perfect… they are just very effective with the things they do and say. Regardless of the role, that’s exactly where you want to be… as close to error free as possible.
That said, I think there is a “fairly simple” way to distinguish between when an apology is or is not appropriate. It comes down to behaviors and misunderstandings vs. business decisions and competency.
When an apology is appropriate…
Behavior – Managers who have behavioral issues should apologize. Examples might include lashing out at an employee, using foul language, being demeaning, etc. Inappropriate behavior often results from immaturity and/or emotional instability. It isn’t a good place for the leader to be. Learn to control your emotions and you’ll remove yourself from being caught up in these negative scenarios.
How to Say It : “I know I said some things earlier that I shouldn’t have said. I was in a bad mood because of another issue, and I took it out on you. I apologize.”
(At that point, it’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.)
Misunderstandings – Our perception of reality is influenced by our experience and our filters. Some people hear what they want to hear. Sometimes things are miscommunicated and misunderstood. If there is ever a time to apologize… this is it!
How to Say It : I want you to know that what happened earlier was a complete misunderstanding. I didn’t realize (state the facts) and I’m sorry for putting you in a tough position.
(There will likely be other misunderstandings in the future. Your job is to make it right… every time.)
When an apology is not required…
Business Decisions – Business is business and great leaders will always try to make decisions that are going to positively impact the greater good. The best managers often make decisions that work, but when something doesn’t work, there is no need to apologize. Instead, work swiftly to correct the issue.
Performance – Similarly, you should never apologize for not meeting your goals. When it comes to achievement, you either “can and you will,” “can and you won’t,” or you “can’t and you can’t”. Getting above plan is the only option. Instead of being sorry… rally the troops, put on your listening cap, find a new strategy, impose your will, and find a way!
Competency – “I’m sorry… I’m incompetent.” That’s pretty silly if you think about it in literal terms. If you didn’t know any better, you didn’t know any better. The key is to correct it, see it coming in the future, and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Experience builds competence. Plus, no matter how good you are, it’s a good idea to get a strong mentor.
With each of these scenarios, you can use a similar word track to address your team. Be humble and admit that the current process or strategy is not working. Waste little time on the past and move forward with a rollout of your new plan…
How to Say It : “I know we have all been working hard on A,B,C strategy. Sometimes we try things, give it our best, and it doesn’t work out. It’s important that we keep things in perspective. This team is so strong, that most of the things we try will work. It’s just this one in particular has not. After speaking with many of you, I’ve decided it’s time to try something different. You have brought great ideas and solutions. I’ve taken those ideas and we are ready to move forward with a new plan. Here is what we are going to do…”
Ultimately, it’s about doing the right thing. The more you do the right thing, the less you have to apologize. Being sorry doesn’t build your business… being effective does!
Image Source: Peace & Profit