When I got married I had a high ideal of honesty – we should tell each other what we’re thinking and feeling in real time as truthfully as we can. It works. 12 years later we’re still holding true to the ideal. Some modifications, though, have come to light over the years of practice. Turns out that honesty is not enough to make a strong relationship work. Timing is as critical as honesty. And, a sincere apology goes a long way.
I’ve come to believe that timing is as powerful as honesty. While I can express something that’s honest and even true for me, saying it at the right time can make the difference between my wife hearing it, ignoring it, or feeling hurt by it. Let’s say we’re having an argument and I’m angry and combative. Sharing my dark and competitive feelings with her in that moment may feel good, but in the long term will damage our trust and openness.
When I falter in either honesty or timing, I’ve learned to sincerely apologize when I figure out my screw up. A heart felt apology does three things: it is an admission of mistake and the awareness of making a mistake, it shows a willingness to change, and it sends a powerful communication about the importance of the relationship.
Leading is a relationship intensive experience. Honesty, timing, and appropriate apologies are as critical in effective leadership as they are in my marriage. Unfortunately, many leaders view apologizing as a sign of weakness rather than an act of intimacy. Apologizing, to some leaders, feels like an admission of weakness, guilt, or fallibility. Guess what… we’re human, which means that weakness, guild, and fallibility are par for the course. Immature leaders mistakenly believe that respect and followership are encouraged by acting like a superhero – all powerful and mistake free. Mature leaders know that they make mistakes, in spite of their best efforts. Mature leaders know that apologies are one of the maintenance activities of relationship.
Practice saying “sorry” when appropriate. Feel the tightness in your throat and the turning in your gut when you sincerely apologize for falling short. Don’t be fooled and seduced by the idea of being infallible – without mistake or error. Experiment with sincere apologies and see for yourself if your stock ultimately goes up or down. I’m betting it goes up.