Why is it so difficult to apologize for a mistake and why is it important to leadership?

  1. False pride. We like to appear competent. A part of us may think it’s a weakness to show imperfection. We hate to be wrong when our identity and work are based on being right. Apologizing risks falling from the artificial pedestal.
  2. A lack of self-awareness. Sometimes we don’t even know an apology is required because we are unaware that our actions were hurtful. What’s common to one might be harmful to another.
  3. Rationalization. A close cousin to pride, rationalization is about avoiding reality. Justifying that your actions “weren’t that bad,” means you can avoid the hard work of changing your behavior. Without a commitment to change, it’s not an apology, it’s a regret. Perhaps you have a habit of hurting people and know it, but you’re embarrassed about it. And you are afraid or unwilling to actually change.
  4. You don’t know how. We often avoid apologizing because we are not sure of the best way to approach the situation. It takes skill to make an apology and admit being wrong. Sincerity and a commitment to change are ultimately what’s required.

Apologizing is critical to leadership for four reasons:

  1. Leaders are always failing somebody. While you’ll never please everybody, if you aren’t willing to apologize, people won’t connect to your humanness and won’t trust you.
  2. False pride never inspired anyone. Being unwilling to acknowledge your mistakes keeps you in the ivory tower of your superiority. Leadership is about working with people, not above them.
  3. Leaders require self-awareness. If we don’t see our blind spots, we can’t grow. And if we aren’t learning and growing, we can’t expect those around us to feel safe enough to engage fully and bring their whole self to what they do.
  4. People feel valued and respected when you apologize to them.