Good Leaders Tap Into Emotional Intelligence
One of the most important ways leaders can build trust is by apologizing for mistakes


The qualities of leadership: this is part 2 of a two part series on the how leaders can tap into their emotional intelligence to lead, motivate and inspire others during challenging times.

In part one we focused on characteristics of leadership and the value of personal self-awareness as applied to admitting mistakes as a leader. In part two we offer steps for apologizing for mistakes you have made as a leader.


People will usually spot an insincere apology when they see and hear it. They may not always want to admit that they spotted it and may try to look for the sincerity, but people generally know.

People backed into corners and forced to apologize will often apologize with the disclaimer that they apologize if ‘others were offended’.

They do not apologize for their own actions or behaviours. Sometimes these apologies blame the people who were hurt or offended for being offended. These apologies blame those who were harmed or offended by their actions by saying ‘we admit some people are sensitive and may have been offended by our actions’.

Often a leader who is insincere in an apology fails to take personally responsibility by referring to ‘our’ and ‘we’ and not to ‘mine’ or ‘I’. Although if these leaders have a good coach or consultant they have been trained to say ‘I take full responsibility’ and not continue with ‘I should not have trusted person A to take care of this.

I do not care about what you think!

When we see those insincere apologies we can feel surprised, taken advantage of , lied to and less inclined to trust anyone at least for the next while.

There are exceptions. As we have seen in the case of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford there are those who blindly believe in the sincerity of a false apology even as evidence of lies upon lies become widely recognized.

Generally, however, when an apology is trite or insincere we know it and lose trust in the person who has offered the insincere apology. Even when the person ‘admits’ to a mistake and even owns if the person does not apologize with sincerity we do not have confidence that future choices or actions will avoid the same or similar mistakes.

An insincere apology is communicating ‘I really do not care about what you think’.  Does saying I do not care about you inspire you to follow someone?

As a leader an insincere apology does not inspire trust, gain followers, or create an opportunity for learning or move forward. When a leader cannot admit a mistake or when a leader is only forced to admit a mistake and follows this by an insincere apology the chances are the organization or team is doomed.

Admitting mistakes is difficult for many people in general. Some people and some cultures are more prone to apologizing as a personal trait or cultural characteristic.

Consider that the politeness of Canadians often involves saying ‘I am sorry’.  But this ‘apology’ is often a cultural habit and not a sign that they are more able to admit real mistakes.

In part one of this series I explored ways to admit and own mistakes and why these are important components of being able to offer a sincere and effective apology. Now it is time to turn to what to do and how to do it once you are really ready to apologize and mean it.

5 Steps to Apologizing For Your Mistakes

1.   Be sincere and stay in the first person:

Be prepared to say ‘I am sorry’. Acknowledge that you missed information or got ‘stuck’ on one path. Identify you blind spots (I explored the idea of blind spots in the previous article). Demonstrate your new self-awareness. Show your thoughtfulness and preparedness to avoid a similar type of mistake in the future.


Next page: Steps 2 through 5



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