Candidly, you won’t see this properly demonstrated by people in the public eye too often. On the other hand, exceptional leaders know how, when, and why to apologize. Follow the six steps below to stand out as a better leader who shows respect and understands the meaning of the word.
1. Admit you have done something wrong, and you need to make up for it.
“Never apologize and never explain–it’s a sign of weakness,” was uttered by John Wayne in an old western. Great screenwriting, perhaps, but lousy leadership advice. Hang up your spurs, cowboy, because one; you are no John Wayne. Second, that kind of faux machismo might play well with a sliver of certain crowds; it is nowhere near as effective as the people who follow it like to believe.
2. Take full responsibility for your actions and sincerely apologize to anyone you have harmed.
Own it. Always. Don’t waste energy and credibility looking for a scapegoat. You are 100% responsible for your actions. Don’t take pride in harming fellow human beings. Take time to acknowledge your actions, even if inadvertent, have hurt them.
3. Apologize with urgency.
An apology does not get better with anticipation. It is not some secret gift you bestow upon someone. Don’t wait for the lawyers or your advisors to craft a weak, self-protecting mia culpa. Once you know you blew it, fix it. After you apologize, you can let the lawyers and advisors do their work and help make your intentions better.
4. Tell anyone you have harmed specifically what you did wrong and how you feel about what you did.
You know what you did wrong, they know what you did wrong, but that’s not enough to get you off the hook. You have to prove you know what you did wrong and let them validate your conclusion. Sharing how you feel illustrates your sincerity and humanity.
5. Recognize that what you did is inconsistent with whom you want to be.
You likely didn’t intentionally mess up, it was not your goal when you work up, but it happened. It’s a setback in your quest for perfection, or acting like the person you have said you want to be. That’s one reason why your mistake should be equally upsetting to you.
6. Make amends and demonstrate your commitment to not repeat the act by changing your behavior.
Find a way to “make them whole” again. You probably won’t be able to, but that should not stop you from trying to find ways to compensate for your actions and visible change your behavior going forward to prove you are serious.
You can choose to do nothing. Cling to outdated beliefs that being sorry is being weak, and you will blend in with everyone else. Maybe that will make you feel better. However, if you are a leader you know it is not about you.
Ultimately it is up to others to decide whether or not to accept your apology. Go about asking for it correctly, and the chances are better that they will, and you will earn a reputation as a stronger leader.