While apologising for mistakes is a commendable quality, an excessive tendency to apologise can sabotage the very foundation of strong leadership. Yes, strength and confidence are essential traits in leaders that inspire and motivate teams to achieve greatness. However, overdoing this expression of regret or over-apologising can undermine even the strongest of leaders. How?
Diminished authority: Leaders are expected to make tough decisions and steer their teams towards success. However, excessive apologising can undermine their authority. By constantly expressing remorse, leaders inadvertently cast doubt on their judgment, making it challenging to inspire and motivate their followers effectively. Therefore, as Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Co, puts it, “Effective leaders acknowledge their mistakes when appropriate, but they also exhibit confidence, decisiveness and the ability to learn from their experiences without undermining their own authority.”
Perception of indecisiveness: “One of the qualities of leadership is that they have good judgment and quality of decision making. Over-apologising can bring the judgment of senior leaders into question,” points out Sharad Verma, VP & CHRO, Iris Software. When leaders constantly apologise, they end up being perceived as indecisive or unsure of their actions. This can lead others to question their judgment and ability to make sound decisions. The repeated apologies may suggest a lack of confidence or conviction, undermining the leader’s credibility and authority.
Blurred accountability: Accountability is a crucial aspect of leadership, and leaders should take responsibility for their mistakes. However, over-apologising blurs the line between genuine accountability and excessive self-blame. It fosters a culture where leaders apologise for things that are not entirely their fault, creating a lack of personal responsibility among team members. Hence, “It’s important for leaders to strike a balance between taking responsibility for their actions and being accountable while avoiding excessive apologies,” opines Das.
Perception of weakness: Confidence and decisiveness are key attributes associated with strong leadership. When leaders constantly apologise, it sends a message of uncertainty and self-doubt, which are signs of weakness. This perception of weakness can erode trust and respect, diminishing the leaders’ influence and authority over their teams. Verma asserts, “It can bring people into question and raise doubts whether all variables and parameters were considered.”
“It is important to learn to apologise when one is wrong, and avoid over-apologising. Leaders should only apologise when they are truly sorry and not just to make someone feel better or to avoid conflict,”
Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Co
Dilution of sincere apologies: Over-apologising can dilute the impact of genuine apologies. When leaders apologise excessively, their apologies may lose their authenticity and sincerity. “It can bring the genuineness into question causing people to wonder whether the apology was actually required or just a politically expedient one,” points out Verma.
For a significant number of individuals, apologising, even when they are not responsible, may instinctively become a reflex action. This behaviour could stem from a genuine inclination towards politeness or a desire to avoid any form of conflict.
“At senior levels, the position, authority and the rewards are associated with making the right judgment calls so it is even more important to identify the right time and moment to apologise instead of over-apologising at every minor thing,” points out Das.
“If an apology helps to mend relationships, and solidify company values and the future path, then it is good. A genuine apology, with a corrective course of action, showing intent married with action, is definitely good for creating a positive work environment for the company.”
Sharad Verma, VP & CHRO, IRIS
Unsound decision-making: Saying sorry when at fault brings positivity into the environment, but when leaders over-apologise, they come across as being uncertain or indecisive. “This can erode the trust and confidence of their team members, who may begin to question the leader’s ability to make sound decisions,” asserts Verma.
How to avoid over-apologising?
There are several ways leaders can avoid over-apologising and foster a culture of positivity and assertiveness at the workplace.
Wait for the right moment: It is said that there’s always a right time to do anything. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the right time and moment to say sorry. “It is important to learn to apologise when one is wrong, and avoid over-apologising. Leaders should only apologise when they are truly sorry and not just to make someone feel better or to avoid conflict,” points out Das.
Clear intention: “If an apology helps to mend relationships, and solidify company values and the future path, then it is good. A genuine apology, with a corrective course of action, showing intent married with action, is definitely good for creating a positive work environment for the company,” opines Verma. However, if it is only superficial and expressed merely for political reasons, then it is not advisable.
Agreeing with him, Das adds, “Leaders should be specific about what they are apologising for, explain what they did wrong and how they plan to rectify things or do better in the future.”
Constantly apologising can have a detrimental effect on one’s leadership brand. It is important to be mindful of the frequency of one’s apologies, as it can impact how one is perceived as a leader. However, when one does apologise sincerely and genuinely when necessary, it demonstrates that one is a responsible leader who shows up for the team in the way they deserve.