Managers Need to Learn that Sorry is Not the Hardest Word!

This innocuous little 5 letter word appears to be causing problems within organisations, affecting our working relationships and our professionalism. Why, you may ask is something which expresses a feeling of regret or penitence, or is used to express an apology causing problems? It appears that managers have an inability to say sorry. Clearly, sorry seems to be the hardest word (Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word). An apology is probably in order now due to that cliché!

This inability to apologise is affecting our businesses, and we need to understand why. A survey conducted globally by Forum Corporation identified an unwillingness by managers to admit to mistakes, and say sorry for errors they had made. This seems to have directly led to a fall in trust and employee engagement, and the statistics from the survey reflect this:

  • 33% of UK employees say their boss rarely admits to making a mistake;
  • only 5% of UK employees said they trusted their boss to a “very great extent”;
  • and just 49% of UK managers think admitting to mistakes inspires trust.

Clearly this is a problem, and is potentially restricting business growth and development. If we further explore the issue we can link it directly to the way in which many managers behave, and the poor judgements they sometimes make. The general areas of concern, in order of prevalence, are:

  • Lying (see our article: A Necessary Evil?);
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas or blaming employees unfairly;
  • Gossiping;
  • Poor communication;
  • Lack of clarity.

Can this problem be linked to an over inflated idea of what a manager should be? Is it that we follow in the zeitgeist of our predecessors in an attempt to appear superhuman? Not fully understanding the trials and tribulations of the management position?

As we stated in our previous article, Why Choose a Management and Leadership Qualification?, research shows that only 1 in 5 managers holds a Management and Leadership Qualification (MLQ). Is this part of the problem? Are individuals promoted to, or employed in, management positions without fully understanding the nature and complexity of the duties, working relationships, and ultimately employee engagement necessary for the role?

So, why is saying sorry such a challenging endeavour? Why do we behave this way? Is it that we feel vulnerable? Do we think that such an admission will lead to a loss of power and/or status, making us appear weak, inadequate and/or incompetent? Just what exactly is holding us back?

Undoubtedly, arrogance and hubris will affect how some people behave; others will not want to admit mistakes to colleagues. Holistically, there is also a lack of understanding, knowledge and experience which affects the conduct of some managers, but ultimately, this managerial issue needs to be addressed. It can no longer stay as the elephant in the room if we are to be more effective in our roles and improve employee engagement, which in turn will allow our organisations to grow and flourish.

Managers need to learn that sorry is not the hardest word to say!