A strong leader knows the power of an apology. When a leader recognizes that something of value has been broken or lost, s/he has the power to mend it through the delivery of a good apology.
Deciding to give an apology is rooted in the ability to separate behavior from the person that you are. It takes a strong sense of self to step back and recognize when something happened that shouldn’t have, even when you played a part in it.
Sometimes an apology requires you to allow a part of your ego to die. The reward is that once you let it die, you are stronger, with more integrity and greater ability as a leader.
A good apology has 4 features:
1. admit what you did wrong
This is about behavior not the person that you are. A statement like ‘When I —– I failed to recognize your true value” or “When I —— I jeopardized what was really important here which is ————– and I regret that.” It is an acknowledgement of what happened that shouldn’t have as opposed to an opportunity to highlight all that you did right or what other people did wrong that was worse than what you did (defensiveness). It requires a clear recognition of what happened that shouldn’t have. “If I hurt you, I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it.
2. repair the damage
What action can be taken to bring the situation back to wholeness? Pay for the broken item, explain the situation to people who were effected, genuinely acknowledge what damage was done and take action to remedy it so it does not linger into the future.
3. give reasonable assurance it will not happen again
Create new systems for safety checks, commit to a new course of action, or identify consequences that will be imposed to deter recurrence.
4. ask what you can do to make it better
Beyond the physical damage there is damage to the trust between the parties. Commit to hearing their concerns, or taking actions that will repair the feelings of the injured party. There is a responsibility on the part of the injured party to not extract such a heavy toll that the other party is hurt and a cycle of victimization develops.
I’ve used this apology format in numerous situations from squabbles between kids, my relationships, and professional intervention to restore relationships after cyber bullying incidents. It is really effective. The key is to ensure that the apology is recognized as coming from a position of strength of character, an embodiment of your inner Warrior King.