I overheard a lecture recently on the notion of repentance, and the state of “apologies” in society. A number of famous athletes and politicians have been making the rounds lately, displaying the many different fashions of regret. If you listen closely to their words, you may notice the absence of a real heartfelt apology and understanding of the offense. It has become a rare occasion that a complete apology is made without equivocation.
There are many ways to get around making a proper apology. You can simply blow it off and just say nothing, taking the “let’s just move on” approach. Or you can pass on the blame to others with the “to those who were somehow offended by what I said, sorry” approach – as if it was their fault to find it offensive.We have all been in meetings or discussions where a colleague will simply try to skirt around a mistake or incorrect statement. Such occasions come across as moments of weakness, void of insight and insulting to those watching. We are probably all guilty of this as well.
We lose respect for a leader when he or she fails to acknowledge a mistake. What we want to see in our leaders is a sense of self-awareness and honesty. Personally, I gain confidence when one of my colleagues says, “Gosh, I don’t know what I was thinking, sorry about [fill in the blank].” It makes me feel like the mistake or false assumption is now fully understood and owned. It makes me feel safe.
We lose respect for a leader when he or she fails to acknowledge a mistake.
What concerns me more is when a colleague makes a naive decision and then, when pointed out or proven wrong, simply moves on without any formal acknowledgment. Whether out of a desire to protect a fragile ego or a refusal to learn from a mistake, it is scary to see. It is scary because it makes us question a colleague’s judgment.
When you are at fault, you might fear that admitting an error is admitting weakness. On the contrary, apologies are a sign of strength. Adversity is an opportunity to show your true colors. It is remarkable when a leader is so confident and self-aware that he or she is able to simply apologize. Personally, I find it inspiring.
More about Scott Belsky
Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.
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