You won’t be sorry if you say ‘I’m sorry’

A leader’s ability to set aside their pride and apologize for wrongs they have done can gain them even greater respect from the people they lead.

More than 40 years ago, Elton John and his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin composed a song titled, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” (I know I date myself with this reference, but bear with me.)

It’s a sorrowful song about a love relationship gone off the rails, but the title holds a broader truth — namely, that the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily to the lips of many of us.

It often is hard to admit when we are wrong because it is a tacit acknowledgment of our imperfection. That’s especially true when something we say or do offends others and merits an apology.

People in leadership seem to struggle more that most with uttering Elton’s hardest word.

I suspect it is because leaders like to maintain an aura of infallibility. Consequently, they fear any admission that their thoughts or actions were flawed will reveal they are not as infallible as they might want to portray.

Yet just as the Apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, a leader’s ability to set aside their pride and apologize for wrongs they have done can gain them even greater respect from the people they lead.

I offer as an example a dear friend who is the owner of a highly successful small business. He is esteemed in his community and much beloved by his dozens of employees.

However, my friend had a bad habit that needlessly would deflate his employees’ spirits. If he was fired up about a miscue, he would pound out an email that would berate the employee or employees involved and do so with a liberal use of exclamation points, question marks and words IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.

It was a form of written shouting that essentially said to the recipients, “HOW COULD YOU BE SO STUPID???!!!” I know my friend did not realize how these emails were perceived by his people. That’s because he was genuinely repentant when a consultant he hired to work with his staff saw such an email and would sit down with the owner to tell him how he was belittling the members of his team while undercutting his relationship with them.

My remorseful friend told the consultant he had forgotten The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The owner knew he would not want to be on the receiving end of one of his email rants and ceased the practice that very day. He also apologized individually and in person to each recipient of his final email blast.

Each of the email recipients was impressed by the owner’s act and was gracious enough to accept his apology. What’s more, all of them enjoy great relationships with the owner to this very day.

As the story illustrates, there is great value in acknowledging the error of our ways and seeking the forgiveness of others when we have offended them.

However, it takes two to tango in the forgiveness equation, and the issuance of a sincere “I’m sorry, please forgive me” by the offender will fail to produce its healing power unless the aggrieved party is willing to say “I forgive you” and mean it.

We will examine the importance of being a good forgiver in the next post.

One thought on “You won’t be sorry if you say ‘I’m sorry’

  1. Good advice! I don’t think it can be over-emphasized that the apology must be sincere, with no “buts.” “I’m sorry, but you did something stupid,” just doesn’t cut it. And whatever the behavior is, or whatever was said, must not be repeated after the, “sorry.”


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