Leading with Trust

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

Broken Trust – 3 Steps to Repair & Regain the Trust You’ve Lost

As I’m driving into the office one Thursday a few years ago, I’m contemplating the agenda for my team meeting that morning. It dawns on me that it’s April 1st—April Fools Day. Being a guy who loves a good practical joke, I immediately start thinking about a prank I can pull on my team. The only idea that comes to mind is to tell the team I’m resigning. I figured people will immediately know I’m joking, we’ll all get a good laugh, and then we’ll go on our merry way. Boy, was I wrong.

I enlisted several co-conspirators to follow my lead and feign reactions of surprise and sadness when I made the announcement at the end of the meeting. What ensued were acting performances worthy of an Oscar. The net result was team members were shocked, angry, and felt betrayed by my callousness. One person got very emotional and stormed out of the meeting in tears. Why I thought that joke would be funny is beyond me. Instead of having a good laugh with my team, I had severely eroded their trust in me.

Over the next several days I met with team members one-on-one and together as a group. I followed these three basic steps to rebuild trust between us.

  1. Acknowledge—As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.
  2. Apologize—The second step in rebuilding trust is to apologize for your actions. This is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.
  3. Act—This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We have to acknowledge we did something wrong, apologize for our behavior, and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.

The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements

sorryI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 28 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 28 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

The 1 Key to a Successful Apology

Puppy Dog EyesI appreciate a good apology.

For some reason, probably because trust is one of my most treasured values and I study it, write about it, and help others to build it, I pay particular attention to how people apologize.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t know how to deliver an effective apology (To learn more, see 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology.) Frequent mistakes include making excuses or placing blame, using conditional language that weakens the impact of the apology, or not being sincere or empathetic in your communication.

However, every once in a while I come across a great apology and I experienced such an occasion recently with some colleagues at work. The cool thing is this apology contained the one essential component that makes an apology successful. I’ll set the stage and you tell me if you can identify this critical key.

The Situation
Ann is one of our most fantastic consulting partners. She brings high energy to her training and speaking sessions and our clients love her. Recently Ann unknowingly double-booked herself for two different clients on the same day—a simple calendaring mistake on her part. Ann admirably tried to fix the problem on her own but her well-intentioned efforts ended up creating more confusion in the process. Diane, the project manager coordinating these client events, and Judy, the staffing specialist who maintains the master booking calendar, spent most of  the day rearranging the logistics to meet both client’s needs. In the end everything worked out and the clients were well served and happy.

The Apology
Ann, recognizing the impact of her actions, sent the following apology email to Diane and Judy.

Dear Diane and Judy,

I don’t even know where to start with my apology for the problematic series of events my actions caused. I am so sorry for…

  • My oversight on my calendar
  • Not communicating earlier about this change
  • The extra time and effort required of you to “put things back together again” including scheduling, communication, and going back and forth with the clients, and
  • Everything else in this debacle.

(All lessons learned.)

I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.

Sincerely,

Ann

The One Essential Component of a Successful Apology

Did you spot the one critical key? If not, here it is:

“I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.”

Not repeating the behavior you’re apologizing for is the one critical component of a successful apology. If you want to get technical, you could say it’s not even really part of the apology—it’s your behavior after you apologize that’s most important. You can deliver the most eloquent, warm, sincere, textbook apology, but if you repeat the behavior then it’s all for naught. Conversely, you can botch the delivery of your apology but still regain trust over time if you don’t repeat the offending behavior. The bottom line is your behavior will determine the validity and sincerity of your apology.

Thank you, Ann, for modeling an excellent apology and giving me permission to share it with the Leading With Trust readers!

Feel free to leave a comment about your own experience delivering and/or receiving apologies.

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

8 Essentials of an Effective Apology

I'm Sorry HandsI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 25 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 25 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

The Two Most Powerful Words to Rebuild Trust

Trust MeterCourtney, a new manager on my team, learned a valuable leadership lesson this week – despite your best intentions, sometimes your behavior inadvertently erodes trust with another person.

In this particular case, Courtney didn’t do anything “wrong.” She needed to make some changes to work assignments in her team and she followed all the right steps: analyze the situation, consider the pros and cons of the various options, make a decision, inform all the relevant stakeholders, and implement the changes. However, one of the people affected by the change felt blindsided and was not hesitant in expressing her unhappiness and frustration to Courtney. This was Courtney’s first major leadership interaction with this colleague, and despite her best efforts, she had started this relationship in a trust deficit.

At that point in time Courtney had a choice in how she responded. She could dig in her heels and respond to her colleague with defensiveness and justifications, because after all, she hadn’t done anything wrong. Or, she could recognize her actions had inadvertently eroded trust and confidence with a colleague and address it head on by saying “I’m sorry” – the two most powerful words in rebuilding trust.

There are several reasons why saying “I’m sorry” is one of the critical steps in rebuilding trust:

    • It shows remorse – Consider the difference between saying “I apologize” versus “I’m sorry.” The word “apologize” is a verb and it means “to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, injury, or failure.” The word “sorry” is an adjective and means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy.” Notice the difference in personal feeling ascribed to saying “I’m sorry” versus “I apologize?” Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you own your behavior and you feel bad for how it affected the other person.
    • It demonstrates humility – People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you place a higher level of importance on the person you offended than trying to defend, excuse, or rationalize your behavior. Humble leaders are trustworthy leaders, there’s no two ways about it.
    • It displays your vulnerability – Without vulnerability there is no trust. By its very definition, trust acknowledges that you are vulnerable to someone else in some aspect of your relationship, but you’re willing to have faith (trust) in the other person not to take advantage of you. Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that people respect you for your competence and skills, but they love you for your vulnerabilities.

So what choice did Courtney make? She chose to say “I’m sorry.” Not only did it smooth over the situation at hand, it was a tremendous “trust booster” in the relationship with her colleague. Sometimes we erode trust with others without even realizing it. If you find yourself in that situation, consider the power of saying “I’m sorry” to rebuild trust.

P.S. Courtney gave me permission to share her story. In fact, it was such a powerful learning for her that she suggested I write about it in my blog.

Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

Lance Armstrong“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.”

Lance Armstrong made that statement to Oprah Winfrey in his public confession this week when he finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. It’s the one statement that has stuck with me as I’ve tried to make sense of how and why someone would go to such great lengths to perpetuate a lie and intentionally deceive so many people.

Millions of people have admired Armstrong as an example of how to “Livestrong” and battle through life’s difficult circumstances. Oddly enough, even though his athletic success and personal brand image have been discovered to be a fraud, he’s still proving to be an example from whom we can learn.

Armstrong’s fall from grace offers some important life and leadership lessons:

1. Life’s not about you – Armstrong described himself as a narcissist and said it was his ruthless desire to win at all costs that drove him to be a cheater. I don’t know that I’ve witnessed a public character with such an intense self drive and singular focus (with the possible exception of Tiger Woods, and look at what happened to him) that caused him to be so egotistical and selfish. The joy of life is unleashed when we discover that true happiness comes from serving others and not ourselves.

2. Bullies eventually get what’s coming to them – A self-described bully, Armstrong vehemently condemned and intimidated anyone who stood in his way to success. He burned so many relationships on his way up, that now he finds himself alone in his shame on the way down.

3. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, you should actually be sorry – Several times Armstrong said that he was sorry and took full blame and responsibility for his actions, yet based on other comments he made and the unspoken words of his body language, he left me with the impression that he wasn’t truly remorseful for defrauding everyone. He was apologizing for the sake of apologizing, recognizing that it was the necessary first step in rebuilding his image.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Armstrong’s comeback from cancer, Tour de France victories, and life as an anti-cancer crusader seemed to be the perfect tale. He admitted to Oprah that he had devised such a fantastical narrative that it was impossible to live up to the idealistic standards he created. And millions upon millions of people bought it – hook, line, and sinker. Everyone single one of us has our faults and it’s extremely dangerous to place anyone on a pedestal as the end-all be-all example we should follow.

5. The truth will set you free – Oprah closed the interview by telling Armstrong it was her hope that he would find “the truth will set you free.” Jesus spoke those words in reference to people who choose to follow his teachings (John 8:32), meaning they would find the freedom and protection that comes from adhering to His moral principles. We all need a moral compass that keeps us oriented to true north, and Armstrong is an example of what happens when you lead without morality.

Lance Armstrong has a long way to go to rebuild trust with his followers. Is it even possible given the scope of his willful deception? I think it’s going to be hard.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Seven Gifts for Every Leader This Christmas

Gift BoxSanta is making his list and checking it twice. He’s going to find out which leaders have been naughty or nice. Actually, I think any person willing to step into a position of leading and managing others deserves whatever he/she wants for Christmas! (Try selling that to your spouse or significant other and see how far it gets you!)

If I were to play Santa at the office Christmas party, I’d give the following gifts to leaders:

1. A Sense of Humor – I’ve noticed that a lot of leaders have forgotten how to have a good time at work. Managing people can be quite stressful and it’s easy to get focused on all the problems that have to be solved and the fires that need putting out. This Christmas I would give every leader a healthy dose of fun and laughter as a reminder that you should take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Play a practical joke on your staff, send a funny joke via email, or even better, laugh at yourself the next time you goof up in front of your team. You’d be amazed how a little bit of levity can go a long way toward improving the morale and productivity at work.

2. The Chance to Catch Someone Doing Something Right – Too often we’re on the lookout for people making mistakes and overlook all the times that people are doing things right. Of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, not once have I had one say “If my boss praises me one more time I’m going to quit! I’m sick and tired of all the positive feedback I’m getting!” Unfortunately the opposite is true. Most workers can recall many more instances where their mistakes have been pointed out rather than being praised for doing good work. Be on the lookout this holiday season for someone doing something right and spread a little cheer by praising them.

3. An Opportunity to Apologize – Despite our best leadership efforts, there are bound to be times where we make mistakes and let people down. One of the surefire ways to lose trust with people is failing to admit your mistakes or not apologize for a wrong you’ve committed. Take some time this holiday season to examine your relationships to see if there is someone to whom you need to apologize. If so, don’t let the opportunity pass to repair your relationship.

4. A Challenge to Overcome – A challenge to overcome? Why would that be considered a gift? Well, my experience has shown that the times I’ve grown the most as a leader is when I’ve had to deal with a significant challenge that stretched my leadership capabilities and forced me to grow out of my comfort zone. I would bet dollars to donuts (and would be happy losing because I LOVE donuts) that your experience is similar. Challenges are learning opportunities in disguise and it’s these occasions that shape us as leaders.

5. Solitude – Everything in our society works against leaders being able to experience regular solitude in their lives. Technology allows us to always be connected to work which is just one click or touch away. If we aren’t careful it can begin to feel like we’re “on” 24/7. Regular times of solitude helps you recalibrate your purpose, relieve stress, and keep focused on the things that are most important in your life and work.

6. A Promise to Fulfill – Keeping a promise is an opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness. The best leaders are trust builders, people who are conscious that every interaction with their employees is an opportunity to nurture trust. This gift comes with a caveat – don’t make a promise that you can’t or don’t intend to keep. Breaking promises is a huge trust buster, and if done repeatedly, can completely destroy trust in a relationship.

7. Appreciation – Leadership is a noble and rewarding profession, yet leaders can go through long stretches of time without hearing a word of thanks or appreciation for their efforts. I would give every leader the gift of having at least one encounter with an employee who shares how much he/she has been positively impacted by the leader and how much the leader is appreciated by his/her team.

There are many more gifts that I’d love to give, but like most of us, I’m on a budget this year. However, I’m curious to know what other gifts you’d give to leaders if you were playing Santa. Feel free to leave a comment with your gift ideas!

Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike – It’s About the Truth

If life was like a bicycle, Lance Armstrong’s suddenly has two flat tires.

On the heels of being slapped with a lifetime ban from cycling and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency a few weeks ago, Armstrong resigned Wednesday as chairman of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. His resignation came as a result of the negative fallout surrounding the USADA releasing its 200 page report detailing their evidence of Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) and his role in what USADA dubbed “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong has been dropped by several of his top sponsors including Anheuser-Busch, Trek, 24-Hour Fitness, Radio Shack, and most importantly, Nike. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the company said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

I don’t know Lance Armstrong. I haven’t even read his book. But it seems clear that he’s broken trust with a lot of people who have admired him, both for his sporting accomplishments as well as his personal comeback from cancer and his efforts to fight the disease on a global basis. At this point in Armstrong’s life, he refuses to acknowledge that he’s broken trust, which is the first step in the process to restore his credibility with others. Once he’s able to acknowledge the situation, he needs to admit his wrongdoing, apologize to his legions of supporters, and then begin the process of making amends, whatever that may look like.

There is no denying the tremendous accomplishments of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the wonderful support they provide to so many people in the cancer community, yet Lance Armstrong’s personal integrity seems to be completely incongruent with the noble mission he helped found.

Integrity means you tell the truth. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat. You have honorable values and live your life in accordance with those values. You walk the talk. You’re ethical. You’re a person of character.

That’s what it means to LIVESTRONG.

Are Delayed Apologies More Effective in Rebuilding Trust?

Alben Barkley, Vice President to Harry Truman, said about political apologies, “If you have to eat crow, eat it while it’s hot.” Most of us would agree that when it comes to making an apology, it’s better to act quickly, say your mea-culpa, do what you can to repair the damage, and then put the issue behind you.

However, when it comes to rebuilding trust and confidence with those you’ve offended, the timing of your apology could make all the difference between restoration and healing or just adding insult to injury.

In his newest book, Wait – The Art and Science of Delay, author Frank Partnoy gives several examples from academic research and popular culture that illustrate the importance of discerning the right time to make an apology. It’s not a question of if you need to apologize, but when.

For example, if you bump into a person while standing in line, or spill a drink on someone at a cocktail party, it’s expected and appropriate to apologize immediately. The offense is accidental and impersonal, and to not apologize immediately would be rude and disrespectful. Yet when it comes to more personal and complex situations, an immediate apology may come across as lacking sincerity, thoughtfulness, or care.

Partnoy points out that there are two good reasons to delay your apology. The first is that a snap apology may prevent the offended party from fully expressing how he or she feels about the situation, particularly if it’s a serious, personal transgression. The person wronged needs time to process what happened, understand what the intentions may have been of the offender, and what the ramifications are for their relationship.

The second reason to consider delaying your apology is that letting some time elapse allows additional information or feelings to bubble to the surface. Time and space allows the offended party to fully process their thoughts and emotions, and allows for ongoing discussion that can provide helpful context for why things happened the way they did. Having a more complete understanding of the background behind a transgression can allow the offended to progress to an emotionally open place where they can fully receive the apology.

Research by Frantz and Bennigson concludes that victims feel more satisfied when apologies are delayed because it gives them a chance to express themselves and feel that their concerns have been heard. Their studies suggest that the relationship between timing and the effectiveness of apologies follows a natural distribution curve: effectiveness is low to begin with, rises as time elapses, and then reaches a point where too much elapsed time reduces the effectiveness of the apology.

So when is the right time to apologize? Well, like most complicated issues in life, the answer is “it depends.” Partnoy suggests that the next time you offend a close friend or family member, you might want to think about how they will respond to an immediate apology versus one that is delayed a bit. Will the apology be more effective if it’s delivered today or tomorrow? Tomorrow or next week? If letting some time pass will give the offended party time to understand the full context of the situation and express their feelings, then chances are a delayed apology will be more effective than an immediate one.

If you’ve really screwed up, you’ll probably have to apologize several times throughout the healing process. It’s important to apologize, express remorse, and then listen. Let the offended express their feelings, observe and reorient yourself to where you stand in the healing process, and then move forward with picking up the pieces.

Sometimes when you eat crow, it’s better not to eat it hot or cold. Sometimes it’s better served warm.

Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

I believe that most leaders strive to be trustworthy. There aren’t too many leaders who wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say to themselves, “Hmmm…I think I’ll try to break someone’s trust today!” Yet even in spite of our best intentions, there will be times when we damage the level of trust in our relationships. Sometimes it’s due to our own stupidity when we make choices that we know are wrong or hurtful to others. Other times we unknowingly erode trust by engaging in behaviors that others interpret as untrustworthy. Regardless of how it happens, breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. When a breach of trust occurs, there are five steps a leader should take to repair the relationship:

  1. Acknowledge that trust has been broken. As we’ve learned from the success of the twelve-step recovery process, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to healing. Don’t use the “ostrich” technique of burying your head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself because it won’t. The longer you wait to address the situation, the more people will perceive your weakness as wickedness.
  2. Admit your role in causing the breach of trust. For some leaders this may be a challenging step. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s a whole other thing to admit you caused it. Our ego and false pride are usually what prevent us from admitting our mistakes. Muster up the courage, humble yourself, and own up to your actions. This will pay huge dividends down the road as you work to rebuild trust.
  3. Apologize for what happened. A sincere apology involves admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness, and taking steps to make amends to the offended party. Explaining the reasons why something happened is fine, but don’t make excuses by trying to shift the blame to something or someone other than yourself.
  4. Assess where the breakdown in trust happened using the TrustWorks! ABCD Trust Model. Did you erode trust by not being Able, Believable, Connected, or Dependable? People form perceptions of our trustworthiness when we use, or don’t use, behaviors that align with these four elements of trust. Knowing the specific element of trust you violated will help you take specific actions to fix the problem.
  5. Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future. Your attempts at rebuilding trust will be stalled unless you take this critical step to demonstrate noticeable changes in behavior.

You can’t control the outcome of this process and there is no guarantee that following these steps will restore trust in the relationship. However, the important thing is that you have made the effort to improve yourself as a leader. You’ll be able to lay your head on the pillow at night with a clear conscience that you’ve done everything under your power to cultivate the soil for trust to once again grow and flourish.

I recommend reading Ken Blanchard’s “The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager” as an elegantly simple reminder of the power of an effective apology.

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