At some point as a CEO, you’ll find yourself in a meeting hearing your leadership team share an urgent update that tests your leadership skills and your ability to keep a poker face. It’s the day something goes wrong, and it’s impacting the entire company. What happens next is on you: how you apologize.
On the surface, this would seem like an easy task. I mean any normal person can just flat out say “I’m sorry,” right? The truth is, I have seen the various ways CEOs and leaders go about delivering an apology, and there are some epic failures out there. Why is this so hard for some people?
A lot of it has to do with how much or how little practice we have had up until that moment as a CEO. It’s in the small everyday scenarios. For example, do you apologize to your spouse when you forget to pick up the items from the grocery store when they sent you a few reminders throughout the day? Do you apologize to your administrator when you added something to the calendar without telling them?
The next thing we have to look at is how we respond when we have done something wrong. Do you have a propensity to get defensive when approached with a fault of yours? Are you dismissive? Or maybe you’re really good at making excuses and blaming someone or something for your actions.
Whatever our personal pattern is, it will show up as a CEO — and we can’t hide it. This comes down to how much self-awareness we have and who we allow to hold us accountable for our behavior. The next time something goes wrong in your company, here are some tips to help communicate your apology:
• Have a sit down with a few employees and listen to how they are impacted. When apologizing, you need perspective so you can communicate to the heart of the matter from the impacted group’s view. Hold a small focus group or engage the leadership team and have them go a few levels down and gather information. Be clear that your objective is to understand specifically how people are feeling. Once you gather this data, add some of their exact words or phrases. Once your people hear this repeated by someone of your position, it says, “I’ve been heard.”
• Ensure your solutions involve a sample of those who will be impacted the most. Once you have been able to understand the thoughts and feelings of your employees, take the time to make a new friend and learn a new name in the company. Empathy is what you are after here. Make it a point to get lunch or a call with them. As CEO, you need a loyalist throughout the company to whom you personally reach out from time to time. This builds credibility and trust, both of which you will need during a crisis.
• Place the blame on your shoulders. This is not the time to deflect or beat around the bush about a situation. You invested many years in becoming CEO, and this is what you wanted. A part of your role is taking the hit, even when it’s not your fault directly. You are meant to be the servant leader and a north star to employees and the customer. At the beginning of your press conference or town hall, you must communicate a caring attitude and lead with action to solve the issue at hand.
The CEO is the face of both the successes and failures of a company. It’s easy to point to someone else and see what they should have done but don’t. The next time something goes wrong, see what you can do to help solve the actual problem.
Originally published at www.forbes.com