Apologize Already!

Time and again, I’ve noticed that many of us have a lot of trouble apologizing. I’ve observed this in myself, as well. One reason it’s hard to take responsibility for our bad behavior is because doing wrong is inconsistent with our view of ourselves as ethical people. As a result, many of us avoid apologies like the plague.

What I’ve realized is that difficulties apologizing are tied to pride and ego. When we sincerely apologize, we are taking our egos out of the equation and being honest. We are practicing integrity when we apologize, because we are acknowledging that what we did or failed to do is inconsistent with who we want to be.

Despite the challenges they pose to our egos, sincere apologies are one of the most powerful tools we have. In fact, the act of apologizing is so powerful that Margret McBride and I wrote a book about it called The Fourth Secret of the One Minute Manager.

I try to practice One Minute Apologies whenever I feel I’ve done wrong by someone. In a One Minute Apology, you:

  • Admit your mistake and apologize.
  • Take full responsibility for any harm you did.
  • Make amends by committing to change your behavior.

You might wonder why I don’t say that you should ask for forgiveness at the end of a One Minute Apology. It’s because I don’t think you should. Asking for forgiveness puts the person you’ve hurt or wronged under pressure to decide whether or not to forgive you. With a One Minute Apology, you keep the responsibility in your court. That’s why you end the apology with a commitment to change your behavior instead.

One of the greatest advantages of apologizing is that it gives you an opportunity for completion with that relationship. When you’ve done something wrong and haven’t dealt with it, it hangs over you and drains your energy. When you deal with it, you get closure.

An example from my own life involves Annie, a woman who was Margie’s sorority sister and a classmate of mine from Cornell. Her daughter, who also attended Cornell, was just fabulous. A number of years ago, Annie’s daughter was killed while jogging; they found her body up in the hills.

After that happened, I meant to reach out to Annie and her husband, but I just never did. Even though I was really taken aback by their daughter’s death, I didn’t send them any flowers or a note. I was too busy and never got around to doing or saying anything—and that always bugged me.

A few years later, I saw Annie out walking, so I crossed the street, went up to her, and gave her a big hug. Then I said, “Annie, I just want to apologize to you. When your daughter died, I meant to reach out to you. That was such an awful thing and she was such a great kid. But I didn’t and I feel really badly that I didn’t.” She got teary-eyed and said that she so appreciated my apology. She had often wondered why she hadn’t heard from me. I think we both felt completed.

So the next time something you’ve done wrong is hanging over you, don’t let it eat at you. Challenge yourself to take ownership and see firsthand how powerful a One Minute Apology can be.

Sharing Information: A Counterintuitive Key to Success

I’ve always been a big believer in sharing information. As a college professor, I used to give out the final exam on the first day of class—and spend the rest of the semester teaching students the answers so they could master the material and get an A.

The same principle works in business. If leaders want to build a culture of trust, responsibility, and mastery, they need to share information with people. Giving team members the information they need enables them to make good business decisions.

Sharing information sometimes means disclosing information that is considered privileged, including sensitive and important topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, and industry issues or problem areas. Providing people with more complete information communicates trust and a sense of “we’re in this together.” It helps people think more broadly about the organization and the interrelationships of various groups, resources, and goals.

By having access to information that helps them understand the big picture, people can better appreciate how their contribution fits in and how their behavior impacts other aspects of the organization. All of this leads to responsible, goal-related use of people’s knowledge, experience, and motivation. While this runs counter to the thinking of a lot of top-down managers, the philosophy is based on the following premise:

 

People without accurate information cannot act responsibly;

people with accurate information feel compelled to act responsibly.

 

In an example close to home, The Ken Blanchard Companies, like many businesses, was negatively impacted by the events of September 11, 2001. In fact, the company lost $1.5 million in sales that month. To have any chance of ending the fiscal year in the black, the company would have to cut about $350,000 a month in expenses.

The leadership team had some tough decisions to make. One of the leaders suggested that the staffing level be cut by at least 10 percent to stem the losses and help get the company back in the black—a typical response in most companies.

As with any major decision, members of the leadership team checked the decision to cut staff against the rank-ordered organizational values of ethical behavior, relationships, success, and learning. Was the decision to let people go at such a difficult time ethical? To many, the answer was no. There was a general feeling that because the staff had made the company what it was, putting people out on the street at a time like this just was not the right thing to do. Did the decision to let people go honor the high value that the organization placed on relationships? No, it did not. But what could be done? The company could not go on bleeding money and be successful.

Knowing that “no one of us is as smart as all of us,” the leadership team decided to draw on the knowledge and talents of the entire staff. At an all-company meeting, the books were opened to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent of ideas and commitment. Small task forces were organized to look for ways to increase revenues and cut costs. This participation resulted in departments throughout the company finding all kinds of ways to minimize spending and maximize income. As the company’s Chief Spiritual Officer, I cheered people on by announcing we would all go to Hawaii together when the company got through the crisis. People smiled politely, although many had their doubts.

Over the next two years, the finances gradually turned around. By 2004, the company produced the highest sales in its history, exceeding its annual goal. In March 2005, our entire company—350 people strong—flew to Maui for a four-day celebration.

So the next time you’re stuck, consider sharing information. You might be surprised by the positive results.

Don’t Just Sit There, Say Something!

Managers typically react to the performance of their direct reports with one of three responses: positive, negative, or no response at all. It isn’t hard to guess which one works best for increasing good performance—the positive response.

A person who does something correctly and receives a positive response will most likely continue to perform using that desired behavior in the future. By the same token, a person who receives a negative response for doing something wrong will most likely not repeat the behavior. So, in effect, even performance that gets a negative response can improve if the manager coaches the person and encourages them to improve.

The most dangerous response a leader can offer is no response at all. Think about it. If someone performs tasks and completes projects correctly and receives no response from their manager, how do you think they will perform in the future? The good performance might continue for awhile, but eventually it will decline. Why? Because no one seems to care.

What about the person who makes mistakes but is never corrected? It seems logical that if a person is left to fail again and again with no support or direction, their performance will get even worse. It is the leader’s responsibility to help everyone succeed. Ignoring bad behavior hurts not only the individual, but also their manager and the organization as a whole. It’s just bad business.

Even though leaders are busier than ever these days, most still notice when their people are doing great or when they need coaching. The big mistake happens when the manager doesn’t say it out loud. I often say “Good thoughts in your head, not delivered, mean squat!”

If you want your people to achieve and maintain high performance, let them know that you notice and care about the things they do right—and that you want to help them when they are off track. Share your thoughts. No one can read your mind.

Be consistent with your communication and you will build a consistently high performing team.

We Need to Talk: A 5-Step Process for Leaders

man wearing a suit sitting in a table with clasped handsHave you ever heard the words, “we need to talk” and not felt a little uncomfortable?

In a fast-paced work environment, communication challenges come up every day.  It’s natural for conflict to arise and disagreement to occur, so leaders need the skills to successfully manage emotionally charged conversations and help resolve issues between team members.

To help improve their skills in dealing with challenging conversations, Eryn Kalish, the co-creator of our Challenging Conversations program teaches leaders how to speak up without alienating the other person and how to listen even if they are “triggered” by what they are hearing.

The concepts are easily understandable, explains Kalish, but it is something that’s challenging emotionally to practice. For leaders just getting started, there are five skills represented by the acronym SPEAK that Kalish recommends as a way of becoming comfortable with, and open to, others’ feelings.

S. Stating concerns directly. Speak up in a way that doesn’t alienate other people. Understand how to get at the essence of what’s important.

P. Probing for more information to gain a deeper understanding. Learn how to get more information from someone who might be hesitant to talk. Learn how to gently, but firmly, probe and get somebody to speak out when it is going to serve them and the situation.

E. Engaging others through whole-hearted listening. Be able to listen even when it is uncomfortable. Learn how to work with your reactions so that you can focus and understand what the other person is saying.

A. Attending to body language. Pay attention to body language and be able to spot discrepancies between what you are hearing and what you are seeing. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting when somebody said everything was fine but his or her body language was saying that it is clearly not? Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh, good, everything is ok. Let’s move on.”

K. Keeping forward focused, but only when everybody is ready to move forward. This can be a challenge for leaders with a natural bias for action. Learn to resist the urge to move forward prematurely. In challenging conversations the real issues often don’t come to light at first.

Perhaps the most important thing about using a process like this is teaching a common language and approach that can be used by everyone in your company. Remember to address the issues directly—ignoring them will only make things worse. But using the SPEAK approach will improve communication, trust, and employee engagement. I encourage you to try it out soon to see the positive impact it will have.

5 Keys to Connecting With Your People

bigstock-Different-46099117I was talking with some friends at a recent morning men’s group. Our focus was on the importance of being connected to other people and what it means. We came up with five things we think help you really get connected to others—at work, and in all aspects of life. How would you rate yourself in these five areas?

  1. Listen more than you speak.  We talked about listening a lot. If God wanted you to speak more than listen, he would have given you two mouths!
  2. Praise other people’s efforts.  This one has always been so important to me. Catch people doing things right.  That really helps you get connected with people.
  3. Show interest in others.  It’s not all about you. Find out about people and their families and learn about what’s happening in their lives.
  4. Be willing to share about yourself.  In our book Lead with LUV, my coauthor and former Southwest Airlines president Colleen Barrett said that people admire your skills but they really love your vulnerability. Are you willing to share about yourself?  I think being vulnerable with people is really important.
  5. Ask for input from others—ask people to help you.  People really feel connected if they can be of help to you. Continue reading