Humble Leadership: The Power of Apology

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.  See the original here.

A good leader knows how to take action with authority. A great leader knows that he or she is neither the expert on all things, nor infallible. Leaders are defined not by their vision statements and motivational speeches, but by their actions – especially when things go wrong. A leader who can express genuine humility in the face of their mistakes will earn the respect and dedicated support of their team.

There are three critical parts to an authentic and effective apology:

  1. Act Quickly. Apologize immediately after realizing your mistake. This assures the affected party(s) that you are both sincere in your remorse and empathetic about how your actions have affected them.
  2. Take Responsibility. Taking responsibility means not only acknowledging that a mistake was made, but explicitly apologizing for your part in it. It’s dangerously easy to fall into the “non-apology apology.” This antithesis of the apology typically takes the form of blaming the affected person for choosing to feel negative feelings about your actions, rather than taking responsibility for those actions. Leaders own their mistakes.

NOTE: “I’m sorry that you’re upset” is not the same as “I’m sorry that I made this decision. I made a mistake and you have every right to be upset.”

3. Change Genuinely. The apology means nothing if you don’t follow through with tangible and behavioral change. Your team will believe your words only when they are followed up with actions. If you are unclear, ask the affected person(s) how you can improve or avoid the situation in the future.

We are all a work-in-progress and even the most successful executive should strive to improve every day. We can only improve when we acknowledge that we are not already perfect. From the leader of the smallest project, all the way up to the executive suite, may you strive to practice humble leadership every day.

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