Real Leaders Apologize

For some leaders, apologies seem to come reluctantly if they come at all. Perhaps a mea culpa seems like an indication of weakness. Perhaps the leader’s ego is too fragile to admit that he or she is wrong. Perhaps some leaders really don’t believe they are ever wrong.

There are certain facts upon which most of us can agree. First, all people make mistakes, including leaders. Second, some of those mistakes will rise to the level of needing an apology. Third, a sincere apology is usually received well.

Here are some miscellaneous notes I have gathered as I have observed apologies or lack of apologies by leaders:

  • Many apologies begin with “If I have offended anyone . . .” That is a non-apology apology. Leaders need not apologize if they don’t know whom they have offended. It’s a cop-out apology.
  • A good apology states the nature of the offense: “I was wrong when I said you are a jerk.” The apology does not sidestep the issue, but confronts it head-on.
  • One of the roles of good leaders is to build strong relationships. All leaders mess up relationally at times. The organization needs leaders who are willing to apologize not only to heal a relationship, but for the health of the organization.
  • Apologies defuse antagonism in the organization. Antagonism can seriously harm the health of the organization.
  • Apologies should be a part of a leader’s life on both a professional and personal level. It takes both humility and integrity to admit fault and to apologize for it. But most recipients of our apologies are grateful beyond measure that we are willing to do so, whether they or a co-worker, a spouse, or a friend.

Allow me to speak directly on this matter to fellow Christians. I recently spoke with a young man I befriended on a trip. He is not a Christian, but he is a seeker in the true sense of the word. He also seems to be very smart and informed. “Thom,” he began, “I read a lot of interactions among Christians online. I really am interested in learning from them.” He paused for a moment, and continued, “Why is it that you Christians fight so much? Why are you so antagonistic toward each other?”

My purpose in providing that true story is not to tell you how I responded. My greater purpose is to remind ourselves that the world is watching. We will certainly make mistakes and say things we regret. But we can always apologize. If we are wrong, we should always apologize.

Real leaders apologize.

Real Christian leaders apologize.


  1. says

    Wow, Dr. Rainer, excellent post!

    I don’t know why we are so willing to let our pride prevent us from righting our wrongs, but shamefully, we often do. I think I’m going to make it a personal prayer of mine that we (Christians) be more willing to apologize when we’re wrong, or when we have hurt another person.

    Thanks again.

  2. says

    Thom, spot on.
    I was recently in a Boy Scout planning meeting. Due to the “boy led” doctrine, the boy leaders were doing just that, leading. One patrol leader–my area to oversee–asked about something I’d blow it on. It was a straightforward, indicting question that, had he know how much so, he may have never asked.

    The decision before me was simple–how to respond to let him know it was being fixed: do like almost all other cases I’ve observed and make it factual, abstract or say “That’s my ball and I dropped it.” They truly did appreciate the latter approach. It was a bit embarrassing, but not so much. But seemed to do a lot, certainly assuage the problem. I hope these Christian boys (it’s a very Christian troop) got some modeling.

    Sadly, this simple principle is followed so exceedingly rarely, especially in ministry (which I’ve been in nearly 30 years). I would guess you found yourself apologizing to that seeker on behalf of the rest of us.

  3. David says

    Very timely. I apologized to a gentleman last night about a business deal I did not follow through with. It was received very well. It was tough to do it but it was good to do it.

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