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not-sorryI’ve been doing some pre-work preparing two separate seminars I am about to run for a major employer and a leading charity. The two seminars are very different but each will look at the personality of leadership. I have spent the last few months watching and noting the behaviours of leaders in many different environments and have concluded one very real and obvious new trait that is very different from anything I have seen before and has clearly got the potential to weaken if not destroy future leadership potential. I call it the “Non Apology Apology”.

Watching today’s new leaders has caused me to stop and remember that the leaders for whom I have had the most respect during my career never hesitated to say “I was wrong,” or “I’m sorry I…”  On the other hand, whilst we all know we make mistakes and none of us are perfect there seems within today’s new leadership cadre less enthusiasm to acknowledge that mistakes happen. I accept that it takes a great deal of courage to say you were wrong, It’s not easy and in fact is often very uncomfortable for any of us to admit an error, or to acknowledge that something we’ve done has caused others harm or inconvenience. But does that really justify putting self protection or pride ahead of honesty and integrity.

From the outside looking in it seems that the training and coaching being given to today’s leaders includes instructions on how to hide weaknesses and mistakes. This “Non-apology Apology” is highly flawed and is contrary to the reality of decades of modern leadership that has shown that not only is it good for leaders to admit they are wrong it has the potential to build strong positive cultures where people feel engaged.

So listen up bosses, your staff, colleagues, workers and volunteers need courageous leaders in order to feel confident that the person making the tough calls is also accepting responsibility for their outcome. If you feel your leadership credibility is waning take a moment to compare your recent behaviour with some of the recent apologies I have received and maybe you too have been operating some Non-Apology Apologies.

  1. “If I have upset or offended you…”

What a cop out! I call this the hypothetical apology.  No actual mention of wrongdoing. Its sole purpose is to try and put the responsibility of the apology on to me and get me to say it is not necessary.

  1. “For whatever harm I may have caused you…”

Hey leader if you unwilling to acknowledge that your actions or words have hurt some people, don’t waste your breath on a non-apology like this one. Either you did something or you didn’t. Man-up and confirm your wrongdoing and admit you know you did it.

  1. “But…”

Aaaargh – this is the worst of all Non-apologies. This is everything but an apology; all you are trying to do is justify your actions which you already know to be wrong. Next time you are considering using this line try it first on your wife and say to her “I love you darling but…” Let’s see if that gets you in or out of trouble.

  1. Let me explain the background to you…”

I don’t want to hear your justifications, don’t try to hide your veiled apology in a myriad of unnecessary verbiage. If you really meant to apologise it would have been succinct and to the point. 

  1. “I am sorry? But don’t forget what you did…”

Or in other words I am not really sorry and actually it was your own fault you brought it on yourself.

Leaders make mistakes, Leaders get it wrong sometimes, good leaders keep these slips to a minimum but they do happen and no leader should ever feel they require sinless perfection throughout their career. Real leaders apologise with real apologies.

If this blog has unintentionally upset anyone I would be very sorry about that and would be very sorry for any harm I may have caused anyone one but you must understand it was your actions that caused me to write this apology in the first place so actually this is your fault !!!!!

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