Remember that song by the seemingly timeless band Chicago? The lyrics go something like, “Hold me now, it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry, I just want you to stay; after all that we’ve been through, I will make it up to you, I promise to”. You can almost hear the Chicago trademark horns in the background as you read those words right?
I’ve been thinking about apologies a lot lately. I’ve had some of my own to say and I’ve heard some from very public leaders. (Think Chris Christie, LeBron James and others).
The thing is, apologies have become shallow. Do you really believe Chris Christie is sorry about the traffic incidents caused by the “bridge closings”? I get the feeling he is more sorry to have been put in this situation. Or do you really believe LeBron James is sorry for using the word “retarded” (a truly offensive word to many)? Or was he really just sorry it came out of his mouth in public.
The thing is, apologizing isn’t just the act of saying the words, “I’m sorry”. Apologizing means you are willing to and will make a significant effort to change the actions that created the need for you to apologize in the first place.
What does this have to do with Leadership?
It’s simple, the ability to see a mistake, apologize for it and take corrective action is a true leadership quality. Someone willing to do that is someone I am willing to follow. Think about great leaders you have known. They were human so they made mistakes. When they did, did they just use the words or were their words followed by actions demonstrating they were truly apologetic?
I believe that our society has cheapened the apology. We will say “I’m sorry” for anything and do it without thought, consideration or action. The fact is, it should be hard to say “I’m sorry”. We should apologize for wrongs we commit. However, it shouldn’t stop there. We must take the necessary steps to correct the situation – even if they’re difficult or embarrassing. Why? Because if we don’t we’re not sorry (as in apologetic) we are sorry (as in pitiful).