Public apologies

There has been an increase in public apologising by corporate leaders, a tactic frequently aimed at putting errors behind them at minimal cost.

by Harvard Business Review
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

But public apologies are risky: they are highly political and every word matters. Readiness to apologise can be seen as a sign of personal weakness instead of strong character. Apologies can moderate anger, but they can also strengthen the negative associations between the brand and the problem.

And an apology that is too little, too late or transparently tactical can precipitate individual or organisational ruin. Given the high stakes, leaders should not publicly apologise often or lightly, and one or more conditions should apply: that doing so is likely to serve an important purpose or the offence has a serious consequence; it's appropriate that the leader assumes responsibility; the costs of apologising are lower than the costs of not doing so.

Research suggests leaders are prone to overestimate the costs of apologies and underestimate the benefits. But good apologies generally work.

When should a leader apologize and when not?
Barbara Kellerman
Harvard Business Review, April 2006

Review by Steve Lodge.

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