Last month I ran into Dave, a deckhand I worked with a few years ago. It was good to see him, but I was reminded of the times when I was a terrible leader for him. When we worked together, I walked around the boat as if I were somehow superior to him, rather than seeing him as an individual with thoughts and feelings.
I was a first mate who made lists of tasks for the deck crew to accomplish, handed over the list to the team and then spent the day doing nothing to help. I would be in the wheelhouse or running around doing useless stuff. Does this remind you of anyone you know?
Having since learned that leadership truly happens when I am in front of the team, leading by example, I can only imagine what the team thought about me. Over the years, I have realized how badly I behaved as a leader in that situation and have wanted to apologize and make amends, which is exactly what I did to Dave at that party.
When I apologized, I explained that I had been leading the wrong way. He laughed and said he had never forgiven me for acting like a jerk until that very moment, when I told him I had been wrong.
I thought my hands-off approach encouraged better teamwork because everyone could decide how they wanted to do their tasks. I was completely wrong. My behavior was perceived as a lack of caring and general arrogance.
Apologizing can be hard because of the perceived impact to our self-worth and ego. Nonetheless, be courageous and push through the difficulty in order to see the positive results afterward.
Authentic leaders lead from the front and display humility. This also means demonstrating you are human and make mistakes. No one is perfect and a leader who does not incorporate their humanity into their leadership will drive people away.
Command and control leadership presumes all knowledge lies with the leader, which is frequently seen as arrogance.
Now, some may think that apologizing and admitting mistakes is a form of weakness. In fact, some may see apologizing as a negative that will make you less of a leader in the eyes of your crew.
I challenge you to re-think that view point. Consider a time in your own life when you had a disagreement or argument with someone, only to have that person come back and say they were sorry. How did that make you feel about the person?
I would suggest you had more respect for the person after the apology than after the disagreement. This same situation applies to leaders.
When leaders make the effort to atone for wrongs they have made, they will be seen in a better light. Apologizing and admitting to mistakes is a foundational skill leaders need. It demonstrates to others you have thought about what you have done, understood your responsibility in the situation and are taking action to make things right.
The burden of responsibility for being the first to offer the olive branch rests with the leader. The act of apologizing requires humility and courage. Humility is displayed through the straightforward action of admitting to mistakes. It is a core component of leadership. Behave with humility and you will build your credibility and strengthen your leadership.
The key to remember about apologies is that they must be sincere and authentic. If you only pay lip service to making amends with others, they will know it and you will further damage your credibility.