Dr. Aaron Lazare, author of the book On Apology underscores the importance of genuinely apologizing as an important human act, allowing for those that are wrong to repent and for those that have been wronged to forgive. Management and leadership guru Tom Peters talks about sincerely saying “sorry” as one of top leaders’ most important attributes. But do we really know and understand this act of contrition or are some of us inclined to throw out the “S” word with a hope that we can make the issue go away. The data says that platitudes and “non–apology apologies” are worse than no apology at all. For example, one poll shows that only 54% of respondents felt that Tiger Woods apology was sincere.
Lisa Belkin wrote a great NYT Magazine article entitled Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well. She refers to research by Jennifer Robbennolt, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Illinois.
“Dr. Robbennolt presented test subjects with a hypothetical situation — one in which a cyclist injures a pedestrian. She then attributed one of three statements to the cyclist and asked the subjects whether the injured party should accept a proffered settlement. When a full apology was offered (“I am so sorry that you were hurt. The accident was all my fault, I was going too fast and not watching where I was going”), 73 percent of the respondents said the pedestrian should be willing to accept the settlement. When no apology was offered, 52 percent said the pedestrian should settle. And when only a partial apology was offered (“I am so sorry that you were hurt, and I really hope that you feel better soon”), 35 percent opted for a settlement.”
Do you think Tony Hayward, the soon to be ex-CEO of BP was sincere in his apology?
So here are the essential self-accountable guidelines for apologizing at work (or anywhere):
1. Be honest enough to recognize when we screwed up and admit it.
2. Sincerely express our regret regarding our behavior and consequences.
3. Take full responsibility for our behavior/actions (even when we think there are extenuating circumstances).
4. State the learning and plan to act differently; outline how to prevent it from occurring again.
5. Ask for forgiveness.
I like the way Belkin concludes her article: when an apology fails, two things are lost — the victims are not asked for forgiveness, nor are they given a chance to grant it. Being asked to forgive restores dignity to the injured. Granting forgiveness is a step toward moving on. A botched apology not only taints the act of apology but the ability to accept an apology as well. And that is unforgivable.
Let’s be self accountable …apologize when you screw up …do it the right way and go forward.
Being self accountable includes finding a way to create and complete work or projects. Effective leaders give room for people to add ingredients and “bake a cake” because they know people feel that pride of contribution and ownership. Ariely refers to this as the IKEA effect, that we are likely to value that furniture a little more if we have to put a little of our elbow grease into it. (After cursing while putting together some of this do-it-yourself furniture, I’m not sure I fully concur.)
At some level the notion of valuing our own creations more is intuitive. But for people concerned that self accountability may be too accommodating, it maybe a helpful reminder that we personally win by jumping in to create. To those in leadership roles – let’s make sure we’re leaving enough room for others to create to completion.
Now what if we took the same concept as captured in the video and applied it to our personal situation at work? I apologize for comparing saving lives of the poor as being in the same ballpark as most of our business situations. Of course these comparisons are on completely different moral planes. However the concept I want to get across is to not become overwhelmed by the big numbers and the often daunting size of the task. When we think about the magnitude of the “end game” we can feel that we just don’t have enough to get it done. We “throw in the towel” and focus on the lack of resources. Yet sometimes 5% of extra effort here and there adds up and a wave of change. This abundant thinking can often lead to real and sustainable improved results.
When we think we have enough to start; it can lead to finding enough to finish. If you want something to be better or different at work find that first 5% and go from there. We have enough to start. It is acting with abundance.
Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor in their recently published book On Kindness have released a short but thought provoking treatise on the matter. They raise interesting questions. Is kindness for losers? Is Kindness just narcissism in disguise? Does capitalism allow for kind heartedness? In conclusion the authors argue that generosity of spirit and kindness is a more natural state of being. It does not need to be a forbidden pleasure. Indeed our attachments to others fulfill our sense of humanity.
My observations over the years, without the benefit of the psychoanalyst (Phillips) and historian (Taylor) is that kind (not naive) people are the winners in the most important sense of the word. My argument is that kindness is a key sub element of respect.
The next time you need to work together with someone who is a little too stressed out, overextended (overworked?), or just plain tired, watch how much easier it is to have a more productive meeting when you extend this person additional kindness. We can succeed and thrive at work with kindness as a key part of who we are. In fact, the authors noted after considerable study – is more natural and who we really are. It is ok to treat ourselves and others kindly. Really.
Jim Abbott had a great career as a baseball pitcher. He pitched the gold medal winning game for Team USA at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. He also pitched a no hitter as a New York Yankee. These are noteworthy feats in their own right. Jim accomplished these milestones without the use of his right hand, a “handicap” he was born with.
But Jim never saw the “lack” of anything in his life. He grew up with the belief that he could accomplish what most able bodies did; and even more. He also received and accepted support along the way. Jim tells the story about his Grade 2 teacher who spent an entire weekend learning to tie his own shoes with his right hand tied behind his back, so he could teach Jim how to do it one handed on Monday. A 7 year old aspiring baseball player translated that care into self accountable action, and the generosity of this teacher (and many other supporters) lives forever through Jim.
Be generous – be abundant. We might inspire someone to win a gold medal against all odds. Plus we all win the gold medal of living with character. Jim Abbott (and by extension his Grade 2 teacher) is in our Character Hall of Fame.
The model below sheds a little more insight and research related to self accountability and the Character Triangle.
The Curphy-Roellig Followership Model builds on the research of Robert Kelley, Ed Hollander, and Barbara Kellerman and consists of two independent dimensions and four followership types. This comes directly from a great blog.
“The two dimensions of the Curphy-Roellig model are Critical Thinking and Engagement. Critical Thinking is concerned with a follower’s ability to challenge the status quo, identify and balance what is important and what is not, ask good questions, detect problems, and develop workable solutions. High scorers on Critical Thinking are constantly identifying ways to improve productivity or efficiency, drive sales, reduce costs, etc.; those with lower scores believe it is the role of management to identify and solve problems, so they essentially check their brains in at the door and not pick them up until they leave work. Engagement is concerned with the level of effort people put forth at work. High scorers are energetic, enthusiastic about being part of the team, driven to achieve results, persist at difficult tasks for long periods of time, help others, and readily adapt to changing situations; low scorers are lazy, unenthusiastic, give up easily, are unwilling to help others or adapt to new demands, and generally would rather be doing anything but the task at hand. Engaged employees come to work to “win” as compared to coming to work “to play the game.” It is important to note that engagement does not necessarily mean working 70-80 hours a week, as people can be highly engaged and only work part-time. What one does at work is more important than the number of hours worked, but generally speaking highly engaged employees tend to spend more time focusing on the challenges at hand than disengaged employees.”
As a CEO, I want to surround myself with team members in the top right quadrant (notice: brown nosers not appreciated). It is another way of describing self accountability – constantly thinking on ways to improve (starting with you and me) and get engaged to make a difference.