“I screwed up. ”
“I am truly sorry because I understand how my action affects you.”
“Here’s how I will fix this or do better in the future.”
Not words we often hear from our leaders … The ability to acknowledge our shortcomings is in rare supply, at least in my experience.
I noticed recently that I am sharing a fair amount of posts around credibility, trust, and other ethical aspects of leadership. I must not be the only person interested in this most critical part of being a leader.
Note the essential elements:
1. “I screwed up.”
Direct and clear admission of responsibility comes first. Without this, everything which may follow is usually just damage control.
Add the details about how or what you screwed up. NOT the justifications or reasons, just the complete actions and consequences of those actions. No, we are not dwelling on the details ~ we are being transparent.
Timing is critical here. Saying “I screwed up” after days or weeks of media hounding or whispered hallway discussions does not cut it.
Come clean quickly and completely.
2. “I am truly sorry because I understand how my action affects you.”
Next is your explanation about WHY you need to apologize. Be specific and focus on what your actions or inactions have cost others.
Some may call this dwelling on the negative. I call it acknowledging the consequences of what you have done. Yes, it’s painful to spell out the pain, but pain left unstated hurts more than pain identified.
Be specific and clear in your statement. Do not hide behind generalities or vague words.
Do better than “I regret that I hurt my family” or “I feel the pain of the employees”.
3. “Here’s how I will fix this or do better in the future.”
This is the part where we like to go, because it smacks of redemption and forgiveness. We “are not here to talk about the past”, as some have said in recent memory. When we talk about how much better things will be in the future, we are often just trying to sweep something yucky under the corporate carpet.
This part needs to be sincere, detailed, and with a caveat that the reputation and career of the person trying to do better is dependent on what actually happens. It’s all about trust (or the lack thereof) at this point.
As much as those in pain would like to focus on tomorrow instead of today, we are still dealing with the dynamics of the event. People do not magically forgive when we talk about how much better things will be. People live in today – tomorrow may indeed be better, but we have to prove it first.
This part is not redemption ~ it’s accountability.
What did I screw up about admitting I screwed up?
Feeling rather contrite, but hopeful for the future in the Heartland …