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Emotionally Intelligent Leaders - Apologize When Appropriate
Dr. Maynard Brusman - Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Dr. Maynard Brusman - Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, December 29, 2021


Mindful Leaders Humbly Apologize

When an apology is in order, how do leaders in your organization apologize?

We can't help but notice when it goes poorly. Sometimes, it's a matter of people (or a person) not ready or able to forgive. And that's understandable, especially when there is no attempt at restorative justice.

Other times, apologies go sideways when egos get in the way. At best, it falls short as a polished explanation; the apology is an attempt to justify the behavior. This often results in the erosion of trust.

Great leaders-whether they are seasoned executives or untitled leaders-know how to humbly apologize. They understand that mistakes happen and that they are not infallible. Real leaders hold themselves accountable and make amends.

The Humble Apology

A person offering a humble apology acknowledges an offense has occurred, seeks to understand the harm that has been caused, and identifies how it will correct the mistake and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Unfortunately, even seasoned executives can get this wrong. The fear of losing credibility stops them from doing the very thing that will actually help restore their credibility: an admission of wrong-doing. The irony is that in doing so, they can begin to move on and repair trust.

What's Your Motivation?

As Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations (McGraw-Hill Education; 3rd edition, 2021) sees it, an apology is motivated by either restoring integrity or restoring trust. In the 2016 Harvard Business Review article Grenny shares how trust is lost when our abilities and/or motives fail to meet the expectations of others. This can actually create more than one problem:

  1. Relationship problem: When a leader falls short, they must address what they did and how it affects others, including trust in the leaders' competence and motives.
  2. Integrity problem: When a leader falls short, they must address who they aspire to be.

Understanding Trust

At the core of leadership apologies-whether it is on behalf of the organization or in behalf of the leader-is trust. But here's the thing: when leaders offer a humble apology, their motivation is not about acquiring trust, it's about personal change. Great leaders build trust from the inside out.

In the recently published book, The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It (Public Affairs 2021), authors Sandra J. Sucher and Shalene Gupta examine the how and why others-clients, employees, or any stakeholder-make the decision to trust. They begin by defining trust.

The Complexities of Trust

  • Trust is a relationship with three components: the person extending trust, the person receiving trust, and the expected action.
  • Trust occurs in degrees. In our disappointment (or hurt, or anger) it's easy to forget that trust in not an all or nothing proposition; trust is a spectrum.
  • Trust can be regained. Trust must be earned, typically by listening and responding appropriately.

The Elements of Trustworthy Leadership

  • Competence: While this includes managing uncertainty and navigating external circumstances to reach goals and objectives, more important is keeping promises and commitments.
  • Motives: how do you serve the interests of others? How do you balance this with self-interests?
  • Means: how do you reach or exceed your goals? Trustworthy leadership demonstrates fairness with information, distribution, procedures, and relationships.
  • Accountability: As a leader, how do you demonstrate responsibility for your decisions and actions?

The Public Apology

Unfortunately, persons in power often struggle with apologizing. The fear of admitting wrong-doing is often driven by fear of failure, losing esteem, or making matters worse.

Harvard Business Review (2019) published an article that suggests that "sometimes apologizing is not the best strategy." Based on their analysis of research conducted by several universities, authors Sandra J. Sucher and Shalene Gupta define two categories of mistakes:

  1. Incompetence (i.e. failure of product or service reliability)
  2. Integrity (i.e. failure in acting fairly or responsibly)

These categories and definitions differ from that of Granny, which may explain their analysis: when mistakes result from incompetence, apologies are effective. When mistakes occur as a result of integrity problems, apologies are not effective. They explain that when a leader or organization really did act with integrity, denial is a better strategy.

The Elements of a Public Apology

Genuine public apologies are based on three elements:

  1. Identify what happened and what is happening. Understand what went wrong. If issuing a statement, be factual and disclose errors.
  2. Focus on the person(s) harmed. When making a public apology, make it timely (ASAP) and include details about those affected. The only "I" or "we" statement made should be followed by an expression of sorrow.
  3. Concrete action. Reparations, in the form of change and/or compensation, may be in order. Share what action you will take in the future to prevent further harm.

How Real Leaders Apologize

A real apology is offered in a real-time conversation with the person harmed. Ideally, this is in-person, virtually, or if this is impossible for the person harmed, a phone call. The conversation should occur ASAP, and include four key elements:

  1. Acknowledgement of harm done. Ask questions to understand their perspective. Don't argue, explain, or rationalize.
  2. Acknowledgement of their feelings and values. Again, ask questions to affirm and encourage them to talk about what is important to them. What do they need?
  3. An expression of empathy. Without humbly stating the impact of your error-how it has affected them-your apology becomes a hollow justification of yourself or your actions.
  4. Acknowledgement of what you will do. Don't rush to this conclusion. If you will be making your apology public, as the person harmed how they feel about this. Do you have their permission to reveal details about them?

A follow-up letter, email, or direct message/text to the person harmed may be in order. Refrain from using social media to communicate, unless it is part of your public apology. Reiterate a summary of the four key elements to hold yourself accountable.

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist amp; Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Emotional intelligence and Mindful Leadership Consultant
San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond!

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Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Develop, Coach, Engage and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies develop and grow emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

Are you an executive leader who wants to be more effective at work and get better results?

Did you know that research has demonstrated, that the most effective leaders model high emotional intelligence, and that EQ can be learned? It takes self-awareness, empathy, and compassion to become a more emotionally intelligent leader. 

Emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders inspire people to become fully engaged with the vision and mission of their company.  Mindful leadership starts from within.

I am a consulting psychologist and executive coach. I believe coaching is a collaborative process of providing people with the resources and opportunities they need to self manage, develop change resiliency and become more effective. Utilizing instrumented assessments - clients set clear goals, make optimal use of their strengths, and take action to create desired changes aligned with personal values.

I have been chosen as an expert to appear on radio and TV, MSNBC, CBS Health Watch and in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time and Fast Company.

Over the past thirty-five years, I have coached hundreds of leaders to improve their leadership effectiveness.

After only 6 months, one executive coaching client reported greater productivity, more stress resiliency, and helping her company improve revenues by 20%. While this may depend on many factors most of my clients report similar satisfaction in their EQ leadership competence leading to better business results.

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For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

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Title: Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Group: Working Resources
Dateline: San Francisco, CA United States
Direct Phone: 415-546-1252
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