The 5 Worst Mistakes Leaders Make When they Apologize

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Ever had to apologize as a leader?

Sure you have.

Any leader worth their salt will have taken a misstep somewhere along the line, and have had to own up to the error.

But these days it seems that an entire industry has emerged designed to coach leaders on ways to apologize without ever owning up the error they’ve made.

I’m sure you’ve seen these.

It’s the insincere politician. It’s the shallow celebrity. It can be anyone who feels compelled to apologize, but who manages to sound apologetic, without ever really acknowledging their wrong-doing.

As a leader your integrity matters too much to mess up when it comes to the apology. That’s why you need to be careful to avoid what I call “The 5 Sorry Sorries”.

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The “I’m Sorry If…” Apology

Some celebrities and politicians have become masters of this one.

It usually goes like this: “I’m sorry if my drunken behavior caused you any offence…”

We hear the word “sorry”, so we think that was an apology. But it really wasn’t.

Let your “sorry” be “sorry”. Take out the “if”.

The “I’m Sorry, But” Apology

Ever heard one like this?

“I’m sorry for being so rude, but I was really tired.”

Again, it sort of sounds like an apology, because it contains the word “sorry”. However, as soon as you insert the word “but”, it really isn’t an apology anymore.

The “I’m Sorry to Everyone” Apology

An apology should be limited to the person or people directly offended by the offense.

If you wronged a member of your board, you don’t have to apologize to the entire congregation.

The “I’m Sorry for Everything” Apology

A friend of mine was asked by his church to issue a public apology for a series of leadership mis-steps, most of which were well beyond his responsibility.

Own your stuff, but don’t own everyone else’s stuff.

The “I’m Sorry…Eventually” Apology

The expression “justice delayed is justice denied” has a cousin; “An apology delayed is an apology denied.”

Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long to issue your apology. Own up as soon as reasonably possible.

Let’s face it. If you’re in leadership for any length of time, you will blow it at some point. And you will need to issue an apology.

But by avoiding these sorry “sorries” you can make your road back to credibility much smoother.

What have you learned about saying “sorry” in your leadership?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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