Two Words That Win Over Followers... And Should


If we want to supercharge our effectiveness as leaders, there are two words we need to get comfortable saying: "I'm sorry." 

When was the last time you said, those magical words...together...without a 'but' attached...and meant it? Literally, how long has it been since you've said it? To a peer? To a supervisor? To a subordinate (!?!?!?)? To a friend? To your spouse? To a family member? How long has it been?

Saying "I'm sorry" might not seem like a grand leadership exercise, but when you consider what it indicates when sincerely spoken, it is.

To say you are sorry is to say you are flawed. It is to say that you are human. Though we don't necessarily like their mistakes, we like following actual humans. We like following them because we can relate to them since most of us are well aware that we too are flawed.

"I'm Sorry" in Real Leadership

Not long ago I was coaching a young, emerging leader named Nancy. Nancy had earned a small reputation for not managing her emotions and reactions well but had been making some excellent strides in her ability to self-observe. She shared with me that just hours before our meeting that day that she had much too quickly cut off someone who was far subordinate to her in the organization. To make matters worse, it happened in front of a number of other people in a rather large meeting. To take it even a step further, Nancy confessed that she hadn't even listened very closely to what this individual said before cutting him off. And then, with a smirk of self-loathing that gave away her embarrassment, Nancy confessed that she didn't even know the name of the young man she had ignored and dismissed so quickly and publicly.

I said to Nancy, "Let's suppose you worked for me. And let's say that I did to you what you did earlier today. How would you feel if I came to you afterwards and said, 'I just wanted to stop by to apologize. I'm sorry for cutting you off in the meeting this morning. That wasn't appropriate or respectful. I'm embarrassed to admit that even when you were sharing, I was doing a terrible job of listening. If you'd be up for it, I'd like to hear your idea again. I'm not saying I will agree with it, but not listening well and cutting you off is not good for our organization and not good leadership from me. You are more valuable than my actions displayed.'  How would you feel if I said that?" Nancy's eyes perked up a bit. "I'd feel encouraged," she said quickly with a bit of excitement.

Endearing Your Followers to You

We as leaders are usually far too slow to say we are sorry. Admitting fault will not, as some suppose, reduce the confidence others have in us. In fact, as they feel more connected to us, it actually increases their engagement with us as leaders. Saying "I'm sorry," is outstanding for connecting leaders to their followers and followers to their leaders. But saying "I'm sorry" is not first and foremost about what we as leaders gain from it. First and foremost, it is about being humble. And humility is a leadership quality worth following.

So, really, long has it been since you've said, "I'm sorry"?

Share Your Thoughts:  Has someone in a leadership position over you ever apologized to you? If so, what were the circumstances, how did they do it, and what was its impact on you as a follower? We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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