One of the most significant memories in my life was the time when an individual approached me wanting to apologize for an incident that took place in our relationship about 15 years ago.
For me, the initial incident, while disappointing, was not particularly negative. In fact, beyond the initial disappointment, I forgot about it and continued to interact with the individual as normal. So, it was quite surprising to me when, many years later, that individual genuinely wanted to apologize for their actions.
It wasn’t an “I’m sorry, if you were offended” type of apology. It was genuine. The individual had not been carrying around the burden of the behavior during those years, but something had prompted them to remember the incident and “make it right.”
That person took a risk and put our relationship above their own potential discomfort. And they resisted the temptation to justify why it may not be important to make it right.
In his book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” author Marshall Goldsmith states: “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” He says the need for apology is the centerpiece of his work with executives who want to get better at what they do.
Genuine apologies build organizational and personal trust and help to make us legitimate leaders. As leaders, we would do well to learn the language of apology.