Leadership Means Having to Say You Are Sorry

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In the movie Love Story the main character famously says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

It sounds very romantic, and for a long time I loved that quote—but over all the years that I have worked with leaders and organizations and teams, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t really apply in leadership or in life.

When it comes to building, restoring and developing relationships, you have to say you are sorry.

And it’s not enough to just say you’re sorry—you have to sincerely apologize, to show that you’re willing to break old patterns and take real action in a timely and powerful way.

Here are some of the factors in a true apology:

Vulnerability. The first step in restoring a relationship is to let go of ego. This can be hard for those who value strength and control in their leadership. But apologizing gives you more control and potential power that you could imagine. To be vulnerable is to show strength; to let go of the ego can transform any relationship instantaneously.

Timing. Apologies need to happen sooner than later—as quickly as possible. Delays often make the situation worse. Your apology loses its meaning and you end up causing more harm then good. The time and circumstance need to be both immediate and right.

Accountability. In leadership and in life, it’s a natural impulse to blame someone for your faults and mistakes. But the best leaders know that the best policy is always to take accountability for yourself. Blaming others destroys relationships; playing victim destroys your reputation. Accountability strengthens both.

Fence-mending. Many leaders pride themselves on being right, but the best —the ones who lead from within—know that being kind might be even more important. Even if you know you are right, sometimes the best reward is to mend fences. Prolonging an argument and lengthening a dispute doesn’t further your leadership. On the other hand, mending fences is characteristic someone who understands that leadership is not about scoring points but building lasting relationship and restoring faith.

The best way to apologize is by letting go of your ego, speaking as soon as the time is right, holding yourself accountable, and staying on the high road.

Whether or not you win the battle, you’ll win in character. And your kindness will affect your leadership, which in turn will affect those around you.

The only thing stopping you from healthy and happy relationships may be the belief that leadership means not having to say you’re sorry.

Lead From Within: A true leader is able to apologize when they are wrong and mend fences when they are broken to restore trust to their relationships and friendships.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Garren Fagaragan

    17. Feb, 2015

    wow…flashback Lolly. I remember
    watching Love Story when it came out
    and being infatuated with Ali MacGraw.
    I was 12.

    Anyway, in this post I like what you said
    about being kind instead of having the pride of
    being right. For me, I’ve found that kindness
    for others reflects back as kindness for
    myself. Its a continual journey. I appreciate
    the reminder, a sign on the path to be kind.

    thank you and make it a great day!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Jaunot Baker

    17. Feb, 2015

    No greater truth has ever been written! You nailed it! Keep up the good work! Loved it!

    Reply to this comment
  3. LaRae Quy

    17. Feb, 2015

    That movie is one reason relationships these days do not last—we hear junk like that and believe it!

    Thanks for debunking trivial and trite little quotes like that one…being a responsible adult means we might have to say we’re sorry—about a lot of things, because we’re not perfect.

    As you say, it means we need to be vulnerable and honest—for once!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Panteli Tritchew

    17. Feb, 2015

    We can’t say we are sorry to someone unless we recognize that we have wronged them, and our “natural” impulses are to invest into myriad reasons that our actions were justified. We rationalize. We make excuses. We buy into our own bs. We keep editing the tape until it plays the movie we want to see. Drama, drama, drama. And more drama.
    So much easier to forgive ourselves and apologize to those we’ve wronged.
    It’s good to be reminded about what it is to be human. Lovely post, Lolly.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Patrick

    17. Feb, 2015

    Some of us have so many opportunities to say I am sorry we have mastered the craft and could hold symposiums!

    Great Post!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Lottie

    18. Feb, 2015

    Hi Lolly, this is a great post and so very true. I also think that it’s extremely important in all relationships, business or otherwise, to remain sincere and humble when in the wrong. I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, thank you for connecting with me and giving me the opportunity to read your insights. Have a lovely weekend, Lottie.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Karen Wharton

    20. Feb, 2015

    Thank you Lolly this is truly very timely !!!

    Reply to this comment
  8. Karin

    20. Feb, 2015

    Greetings Lolly! Thank you for this article. It’s a great reminder. Some need it and others not so much. I also thing a lot comes from the way we were raised. t surprises me when I come across someone I consider a great leader that does not possess the ability of saying you are sorry.
    Thanks again for the great article!

    Reply to this comment
  9. Ace-Nectar

    20. Feb, 2015

    The only thing stopping you from healthy and happy relationships may be the belief that leadership means not having to say you’re sorry.

    The actions of a Leader regarding humility are spot on in this account; though I cannot accept the validity of the article for the simple reason that you have not elaborated on the concept of forgiveness.

    Sincerity, humility, accountability not only facilitate fence-mending but allow for a stronger bond of Trust to be formed within teams, regardless of the Leader, whose ultimate role is to inspire and motivate and teach the team to accept responsibility willingly and lead others as they lead from within.

    Love does not require the words to be spoken, for in Love there is always Forgiveness but saying I’m sorry does not always imply that Forgiveness has been addressed.

    But the romantic or erotic hue of love has no place in teams that are managed by a leader and with that knowledge there is no need to invalidate and negate that very powerful romantic statement as expressed in that film you have mentioned.

    It resonates with all of us because it is both an implied and a perceived truth – making the distinction of whether it is present or applicable should not be difficult with all these sexual harassment laws in place.

    A Leader must learn how to discriminate very finely – we do after all say that the devil is in the details,perhaps now you know the reason.

    Thank you Ms Daskal for sharing this Wisdom, it is always a delight reading your articles.

    God Bless

    Reply to this comment
  10. Maureen D. Gochett

    25. Feb, 2015

    Right On I love this article!!! So timely in this generation today.

    Reply to this comment
  11. IvoKainKrieg

    10. Mar, 2015

    I would rephrase the film line: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
    according to nowadays meaning as such:
    “Love means, strive to live such that saying you’re sorry is always a new chance.
    Or something like this.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Greg Davis

    23. Jun, 2015

    Thanks for reposting this important insight!

    Before we can genuinely say, “I’m sorry”, we must say, “I was wrong.” This forms the foundation for any lasting apology.

    We can say, “I’m sorry for offending you” or…”I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”. But this is not enough; we are not taking full responsibility.

    When we say from the heart, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” then our relationship is strengthened and restored.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Dan Aldridge

    01. Jul, 2015

    Being able to truly love means that you have to have the courage to sincerely apologize. Although it may hurt to apologize in the moment, and you may have to suck up your pride, that hurt should immediately be followed by relief. Even gratitude that you’ve been given an even deeper opportunity to love.

    Thanks for the post, Lolly. Very nice.

    Reply to this comment
    • Michal Petras

      24. Oct, 2015

      Absolutely spot on Dan I can’t agree more with you.

      Reply to this comment
  14. Guilherme Daurte

    20. Oct, 2015

    Amazing article Lolly. Just like in love relationships an engagement ring is not enough, in business ones you also need more for a good (employee) engagement 🙂

    Build stronger teams – http://www.tapmyback.com

    Reply to this comment
  15. Michal Petras

    24. Oct, 2015

    You are right Lolly . I agree with one thing. We must apologise. As soon as possible. And learn from what we did and do not do it again. In personal relationship, it is even more important than wherever else. I know that our relationship with my lovely wife would finish very quickly if we didn’t apologise to each other. And mean it with all your heart and soul . Plus we have to support our apology by our right action to show we meant it . Thank you for this great article. I have fully enjoyed it .

    Reply to this comment
  16. Justice Ofori-Elikem

    23. Jun, 2017

    Lolly I salute you. You speak the truth in a sincere manner.

    Reply to this comment

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