The Power of an Apology

People, teams and organizations make mistakes – daily! Being imperfect is what defines each of us as “human.” We all know this and while we try to make fewer mistakes or at least “new” mistakes, we know that we can’t be perfect – at least not all of the time.

Yet, I am surprised by the reluctance of leaders and organizations to acknowledge the mistakes made (small or big) and apologize, honestly and sincerely. Too many feel that apologizing is a show of weakness or creates a loss of ego, but I believe that to apologize is to be strong. A well-worded, genuine apology is a display of strength and respect for the parties that were “harmed” or “offended.” Especially in our current hyper-fast world, taking a moment to acknowledge someone’s feelings, an apology is so very powerful. Acknowledging a mistake is a true sign of a leader.

Since our work at Stage 4 Solutions involves managing between clients and candidates each day, we see many “mistakes” on all sides (including our own). Some mistakes are small – showing up late for a meeting/rescheduling meetings at the last minute – and some are larger – showing disrespect for diversity/unprofessional management style. And we experience many approaches to handling those issues. In some situations, a manager/leader will stop and quickly and sincerely apologize for the mistake, and they can dissipate any negative emotions, and in many ways build an even stronger relationship than if the mistake had not been made. In other situations, we see managers not acknowledge an error, or justify it, or say “everyone does it” by way of explanation. In these latter situations, we see employees’ feelings of disrespect and not being “seen” leading to resignations and dropping out of interview processes.

Employees and candidates know that there are many choices in the current job market, and so many are resigning from jobs where leaders refuse to acknowledge them and respect them. Regardless of the company brand, corporate values listed on a website, it is the 1 on 1 human interaction that defines an employee’s perception of companies. Many studies show the number one reason employees resign is their direct manager. We see so many of our world-class clients investing in leadership training, and building cultures in their companies; however, we see very few clients investing in training on how to apologize, to win the hearts of team members, and build engagement.

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