2017 is a year defined by arrogance.

Arrogance in national affairs, as the president and his senior staff persistently refused to acknowledge any facts that failed to align with their world view, and attacked those who dissented as purveyors of “fake news.”

Arrogance in business, as we saw Pepsi mishandle an ad alluding to the Black Lives Matter movement, and then be surprised by the backlash before pulling the ad. And then it bungled its apology, in a remarkable display of victim confusion, by apologizing to the ad’s star, reality TV personality Kendall Jenner.

And arrogance as United Airlines’ CEO failed initially to express empathy for a passenger who had been assaulted and severely injured by Chicago Aviation Authority security officers removing him from a plane.

Whisper Networks No More

And we have begun to see the consequences of arrogance in professional relationships, particularly the sexual entitlement of powerful men toward others in subordinate positions. This was brought to the fore initially by a New York Times expose in October of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s decades of systematic sexual abuse. The sexual misconduct of dozens more prominent men in entertainment, politics, business and journalism was revealed in the weeks following. The year ended with news that a two-star U.S. Army general had his nomination for a third star withdrawn as a consequence of treating a female congressional staffer disrespectfully in October.

The year saw backlash to this pervasive arrogance of male leaders in the form of the #metoo movement, a hashtag used on social media by victims of sexual misconduct to empower each other to stand up to their abusers, and find solace in their shared experiences. Just about every woman I know has disclosed that at least once in her life she has been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment, at work or otherwise. Time magazine put some of the women who came forward, whom it dubbed “The Silence Breakers” on its cover as 2017 person of the year.

What these various crises and scandals have in common is a particularly pernicious form of arrogance: a sense of entitlement; an inability to see others as worthy of respect and dignity; a failure of empathy. But mostly they reveal a lack of humility.

The Need for Humility

Humility isn’t a word we often see in business. Humility all too often is interpreted as weakness, especially in competitive cultures like Wall Street, politics, or the top of big organizations.

But in  2018, the best leaders will exhibit humility; the best-handled crises will be those where humility prevails.

One of the common patterns in mishandled crises is the absence of humility. Such bungled crises reflect what my friend, America’s Crisis Guru® Jim Lukaszewski, calls “testosterosis,” which he labels as a “powerful and hugely costly affliction.” He defines the affliction this way:

“Testosterosis: Men and women both have it. It’s that state of extraordinary irritation and agitation when something goes awry which makes us want to lash out rather than fess up; to slap a few folks around to see what happens; an agitated state caused by adverse circumstances which we regret about the time it begins, but is most often one of the things leaders, lawyers and other top people wind up apologizing for.”

But a little humility can prevent testosterosis.

A dollop of humility tempers other attributes, and makes a leader even stronger. Humility helps a leader to recognize that maybe – just maybe – he or she might be wrong; that there may be other valid perspectives; that he or she doesn’t have to be the smartest person in every room, at every meeting; that he or she doesn’t need to prevail in every disagreement.

The best leaders take responsibility in a crisis by using what Good to Great author Jim Collins describes as the paradoxical combination of humility and fierce resolve. He admonishes that humility must not be mistaken as weakness. He notes that the most effective leaders are a study in duality:

“…modest and willful, shy and fearless. To grasp this concept, consider Abraham Lincoln, who never let his ego get in the way of his ambition to create an enduring great nation… Those who thought Lincoln’s understated manner signaled weakness in the man found themselves terribly mistaken.”

Emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman, in a Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Good Leader?,” identifies self-awareness as the preeminent leadership skill:

“People with a high degree of self-awareness know their weaknesses and aren’t afraid to talk about them.”

He notes, however, that many executives mistake such candor for ‘wimpiness.'”

Pope: Power Without Humility is Dangerous and Self-Destructive

Indeed, Pope Francis, in a TED Talk recorded in April, 2017, noted that humility is not weakness; rather, it is a kind of fortitude.

He said,

“Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

The Pope used a metaphor to illustrate the consequence of having an imbalance of humility and resolve:

“There is a saying in Argentina: ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility. Through humility… power… becomes a service, a force for good.”

Humility Enables Empathy

Humility is what makes empathy possible.

Humility helps leaders to connect with others up, down, and across the chain of command; to build organizations and cultures that are more likely to thrive; to understand the perspectives of other stakeholders. The best leaders have a temperament that blends both power and humility that allows them to create a culture of accountability in all directions.

The end of 2017 revealed a powerful example of effective leadership as the tempering of power with humility.  As covered by military.com, the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, was addressing troops in Afghanistan just before Christmas.

U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller

He told of the time as a one-star general commanding Marines in Iraq in 2006 he acted grinchy because he was away from his family at Christmas. He initially exhibited some testosterosis:

“It was was Camp Fallujah, it was cold, it was wet, rainy… I just got up in the morning… Overnight they had put up all the Christmas stuff, and Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus, Rudolf, and little trees and lights, and I’m like, [shouting] Who did this? Why are you doing this? I don’t want to be here for Christmas. And this is reminding me that I’m here. Take it all down!”

That could have been it. He was the boss, a general, addressing subordinate staff, in a war zone. But what happened next is remarkable. General Neller recounts,

“And this female sergeant, name escapes me, maybe 5 foot 1, stands up and says, ‘General, you need to knock that sh*t off. I don’t want to listen to any of that whiny sh*t. We’re here, it’s Christmas, we’re your family, you’re not going to be home, so suck it up… Sir!'”

General Neller was taken aback.  He stood silently:

“And I kind of stood there [pause]… didn’t quite know what to say [pause]…  looked at my boots [pause]… and I raised my head and said, ‘Yes, Ma’am, you are correct. I am sorry. This is my family for Christmas. And I will do my very best to have as good a Christmas as I can.'”

This expression of humility, this acknowledgement of his initial failure, this apology and acknowledgment of the rightness of the sergeant’s admonition, is an extraordinary demonstration of leadership. It is also remarkable that despite the disparity of rank and power the sergeant felt empowered to address him directly. General Neller had created an environment in which accountability in the form of such push-back was appropriate.

You can see General Neller tell this story here.

Humility as a Leadership Discipline

This ability to understand the perspectives of stakeholders is critical to being an effective leader and to getting through a crisis effectively.

Finally, humility recognizes that there’s a big difference between responsibility and blame; that taking responsibility regardless of where the blame may lay down the organization is a first step in getting people to focus on a solution rather than simply point fingers.

As we begin 2018, we can look for and notice examples of effective and ineffective leadership and crisis response. My prediction: Humility will mark the best leaders and the best handled crises.

Happy New Year!


Note: The principle of humility as a leadership discipline is covered more deeply in my latest book, The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis.

Introduction by Iris Wenting Xue

This is my second in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.

In her capstone, Stella Zhao analyzed corporate apologies in terms of wording, tone and body language. She compared different apology styles in the U.S., China, and Japan and came up with customized recommendations. As she notes, apology is not only about communication but also about anthropology. You can read the entire capstone here.

…………………..

Stella Danqing Zhao

Stella Danqing Zhao

Through the Looking Glass:

A Cross-cultural Study on Proper Usages of Verbal and Nonverbal Elements in Corporate Apology Speeches – Guest Blog By Stella Danqing Zhao

My thesis is a study on different apology styles regarding wording, tone, and body language in the U.S., China, and Japan. The wording part mainly focused on IFIDs of each country, which means “Illocutionary Force Indicating Device”, also known in this case as the key apologetic words. The body language part focused on the eye contact, facial expression, gesture, posture, and also a particular way of apologizing – bowing.

The study contains two parts –  study and survey. In the case study part, nine cases, three from each country, are analyzed to find the common apologetic words, tone, and body languages:

U.S.

  • Domino’s Pizza:
  • General Motors:
  • Blackberry:

China

  • 2015 Shenzhen Landslide:
  • Mindy Quah:
  • Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant:

Japan

  • Rikuentai Bus Company:
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company:

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 2.36.49 PM

 

In the survey part, a survey was distributed and assembled using the survey software Qualtrics. Participants were first asked to answer a few questions on corporate apologies to see their general perceptions regarding wording, tone, and body language. After this part, they were shown two corporate public apology speech videos – one from Volkswagen, the other from Toshiba. To exclude the influence of participant’s knowledge of certain language, they were asked to focus only on the nonverbal part and answered a few questions regarding on the tone and the body langue of the two speakers.

  • Volkswagen:
  • Toshiba:

Conclusion

Based on the case studies and the survey, several similarities and differences were found between the perspectives of the audiences from those three countries. Therefore, we can have some recommendations on different apology styles in each country.

U.S.

In the U.S., the most common IFIDs are “sorry” and “apologize”. According to the survey, people believe that the word “apologize” is more effective than the word “sorry”, but both of them can be used based on different situation. When using apologetic words, adverbs such as “sincerely” can be used to strengthen the tone. Honorific words are not extremely necessary and the speech can be informal to some degree, but it should still be written clearly and express regrets.

1

A consensus between the three countries is that the tone of an apology speech should be regretful, humble, and empathetic. However, in the U.S., people can accept a more firm, positive, and confident apology. It’s important to show your audience that you have the determination to fix the problem.

As to the body language, it’s important to make direct eye contact in the U.S. Avoiding direct eye contact can be seen as hiding and dishonest. The facial expression should be serious, and proper gestures can be applied. The posture should be formal but with natural movements instead of standing stiffly. Bowing is not recommended in the U.S. because it may be seen as an overreaction.

China.

In China the common IFID is the derivatives of the word “qian (歉)” [In English: apology] such as “bao qian (抱歉)” [In English: apologize] and “dao qian (道歉)” [In English: apology/apologize] . “dui bu qi (对不起)” [In English: I am sorry] is also a common apologetic word but it’s less used in a formal corporate apology. Adverbs such as “cheng ken (诚恳)” [In English: sincerely] and “fei chang (非常)” [In English: very] can be used to show sincerity. One should also address the audiences with “nin (您)” [In English: you, but in a very respectful way, like “Your Majesty” rather than “Hey, you”], which is the honorific form of “you” in Chinese. The speech should be written in a formal style.

Besides being regretful, humble and empathetic, the tone of the apology speech should let people feel that you are somehow ashamed for the wrongdoing, which shows that you realized what you did was improper. It should also be firm without hesitation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 5.14.39 PM

In China, direct eye contact is also welcomed. People can accept having a modest smile on their face, which means the facial expression doesn’t need to be blank or stiff. Proper gestures can be applied, and the posture should be as formal as possible. Although bowing is not required in apology speeches in China, it is recommended to show more sincerity.

Japan.

In Japan, there are strict requirements for the choice of apologetic words. Using informal IFIDs such as “sumimasen(すみません)” [In English: Excuse me] and “gomen nasai(ごめんなさい)” [In English: apologize in daily setting] can be seen as a mistake. IFIDs such as “moushiwage gozaimasen (申し訳ございません)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] and “owabi shimasu (お詫びします)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] are recommended. One can use multiple apologetic words in one apology to make it stronger. Using adverbs such as “fukaku (深く)” [In English: deeply] and “hontoni (本当に)” [In English: truly] are also a good way to show sincerity. Honorific form of the words is required in a formal apology.

3

In Japan, the tone of the apology speech should be more “negative”, meaning it should be more sad, regretted other than positive and confident. It’s better to show you remorse for bringing other people trouble.

Direct eye contact is not recommended when apologizing to Japanese people. Lowering the head can show your regrets and humble. A smile is strongly prohibited. Although in the survey the respondents didn’t disagree with using gestures, they are seldom found in previous apology speeches. Usually, Japanese people stand in a very formal posture with their hands beside their body. Bowing is required and can be applied multiple times according to different situations.

 

U.S. China Japan
Wording IFID “Apologize”/”Sorry” Derivatives of “qian” (歉)

“moushiwage gozaimasen”

(申し訳ございません)

“owabi shimasu”

(お詫びします)

Adverb Sincerely “fei chang” (非常)

“cheng ken” (诚恳)

“hukaku” (深く)

“hontoni” (本当に)

Honorific

Form

✔✔
Tone

Regret

Humble

Empathetic

Positive

Confident

Firm

Firm

Ashamed

Sad

Ashamed

Body Language Eye contact ✔✔
Smile
Gesture Apply properly
Posture Somewhat natural Formal Formal
Bow ✔✔

 

The table above briefly summarizes how wording, tone, and body language shape public perceptions of corporate apologies, and how apology style differs in U.S., China and Japan. Reflecting on a better understanding of how stakeholders think and feel can help a leader, and those who advise the leader, to more likely craft an apology that will work.

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
9 Feb 2015 | 12:50PM

Brian Williams is under fire (figuratively) this week for falsely claiming he was under fire (literally) in Iraq in 2003.

The NBC Nightly News anchor apologized for the error two days ago, which only spawned further critiques, detailed timelines, and very high-profile calls for his head (figuratively again).

The BriWi Affair has also raised questions about how America’s most-watched news anchor could have so casually discarded his credibility. “Why did Brian Williams lie?” blared Politico this morning.

I’m pretty sure that Williams didn’t lie. His mind just played tricks on him.

Williams has likely succumbed, in the 12 years since the Iraq incident, to his labile (or changeable) memory. In a way, our minds play a trick on us each time we recall a memory. We slightly, unknowingly edit the facts to make them more relevant to our lives, and over Williams’s 12 years, that’s a lot of editing.

Listen to this fascinating explanation from Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden:


It’s tough to tell whether any one person has been lied to by his own memory, or whether he’s really been lying to us. In any case, while the scientific discovery of labile memory is pretty new, humans have long known that our memories are unreliable: We talk about memories that are “fuzzy” or “lost” or, most apt for Williams’s case, shrouded in the “fog of war.”

So, whether he intentionally lied or not, Brian Williams is most definitely on the hook for one big failure.

Although he did report on the incident accurately in 2003 — “On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” — he failed to review that history in order to compensate for his labile memory. For a journalist, that failure of documentation is particularly grave.

Instead, Williams told the story from “memory” each time, but each time the “memory” had changed.

It’s a lesson to all of us, for our most important memories, to arm ourselves (um, still figuratively) with what we need — photos or documents or journals — to keep our minds from playing tricks on us.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Helio Fred GarciaHelio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
31 Dec 2014

Every year I look for great moments in leadership and leadership communication. This year offered many candidates for the greatest leadership moment. The usual suspects come from the world of politics, sports, or business. But there was one unlikely moment in 2014 that in my view shows leadership in an unexpected light, one that offers both teachable moments and hope for leaders in any field.

Great Leaders Transcend the Either/Or

Ever since the murder of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August, there has been a growing movement calling attention to the disproportionate number of black youths who are killed by police officers. In the months following the Ferguson shooting, other police-involved shootings led to national protests, including the “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot” rallies and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter

The media has framed the conflict as police v. black communities, and New York City police have played into that dynamic by showing disrespect to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio after he noted that he has spoken with his own son, who is black, about his personal risk when interacting with police.

But however convenient for the media to paint the conflict as either/or; as pro-police or pro-community, it doesn’t have to be this way. And great leaders can transcend the bifurcation and find ways to unite and move forward.

My pick for the best leadership and leadership communication moment in 2014 is Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. I’ve taught his case in several graduate business and communication courses in the five months since, and each time it brings tears to the students’ eyes. I share it here.

Ferguson

 Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. The police mishandled the investigation and aftermath, and by midweek the St. Louis county and other local police forces mishandled the protests that erupted. The US and national media descended on the scene, broadcasting live from the streets.

Ferguson_Day_6,_Picture_44The police over-reaction included paramilitary police in military gear riding on an armored vehicle, with a sniper aiming his rifle at protesters. It included tear-gassing of the crowds and of journalists, and intimidating journalists and other observers. The scene was reminiscent of a war zone, and covered that way in the national and international press.

watching the crowd with rifles

By late week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon took control of the situation, and named the Missouri Highway Patrol as the agency responsible for crowd control. He appointed State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson the commander on the scene.

Johnson, who is black and who grew up and still lives in the Ferguson area, immediately reframed his role: it was not to protect Ferguson from the protestors, but to protect the protestors’ right to peaceably assemble.

 The Transforming Moment

But the great moment in leadership came the Sunday eight days after Michael Brown’s shooting, and four days after the tear-gassing in the streets.   It was at a church, at a rally in support of the Brown family. Capt. Johnson arrived wearing his state trooper uniform. There was palpable tension in the large crowd as he took the pulpit. UntitledBut he began in an unexpected way:

 “I want to start off by talking to Mike Brown’s family. And I want you to know my heart goes out to you. And I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”

It was a remarkable moment. And the crowd was not expecting it. There was initial silence, then applause, which lasted for more than thirty seconds; the final fifteen of which included cheers.

In that moment Johnson transformed the situation.  He connected with the community; he opened a valve that allowed pent-up emotions to be released, in a positive and constructive way.  He spoke first to the people most directly affected, the Brown family. He expressed sympathy for their loss, and then said he’s sorry. He repeated it in the frame of his uniform. Their experience of the police, from the shooting of their son to the mishandling of the crime scene to the bungling of the protests, was one of indifference and of confrontation. Here was a police leader moving past those experiences and connecting at a human level.

And there was significance in his phrase: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.” He was the first law enforcement officer to say so.

Having established an institutional leadership role, he then connected more personally, and made a personal commitment.

 “This is my neighborhood. You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you. And I will stand and protect you. I will protect your right to protest.” (More cheers.)   I’m telling you right now I’m full right now. I came in here today and I saw people cheering and people clapping, and this is what people need to put on TV.” (More cheers and applause.)

He then told his own story.

“When this is over, I’m going to in my son’s room. My black son. Who wears his pants sagging; wears his hat cocked to his side; has tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby.”

Then he moved from the personal to the public:

“Let’s continue to show this nation who we are; continue to show this country who we are; for when these days are over Mike Brown’s family is still weeping, and they’re still praying…

He closed by connecting, promising, and rallying:

 “I love you. I stand tall with you. And I’ll see you out there.”

A police officer told the community that he loves them.  Remarkable.

Watch the six minute talk here:

Leadership Best Practices

Capt. Johnson’s six minute talk met many of Logos Institute’s best practices. One is that you can’t move people unless you meet them where they are. Capt. Johnson did that, connecting in his first sentence with the Brown family and throughout with the community, both black and white. He understood the power of framing: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and tell you I’m sorry.”

Our friend and fellow crisis counselor James E. Lukaszewski describes a pattern in crises he calls the Victim Cycle.  Early intervention can pre-empt or shorten the victim cycle.  In the early phases the victims (both those directly affected and those who empathize) need assistance with their own grief; to hear an expression of regret; to see involvement from the institution in queston; to receive information; and to have their plight recognized. In later phases they also need to receive validation of their suffering; get honest communication from the organization; to hear an apology from the top of the organization; to experience direct communication; and receive compassion. Capt. Johnson delivered all of those in his remarks.

And the Logos Institute best practices decision criteria were also met. The defining question in determining what to do or say is:

What would reasonable members of the stakeholder group appropriately expect

a responsible organization or leader to do when facing a situation like this?

And in the case of the Ferguson community, when Capt. Johnson addressed them, the reasonable expectations of a responsible leader would be to connect, express sympathy and regret, and to honestly declare his values, commitments, and next steps. Capt. Johnson did.

In many ways he was the leader best suited to do so.

Time magazine quotes St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who knows Captain Johnson from working on large events such as a presidential motorcade:

“He’s a quiet guy, but he is professional. When he speaks, people listen. When he acts, people respond to it. He’s familiar with the area, he comes from the area, and he connects with the community.”

Time quotes his former boss, Patrol Superintendent Colonel Roger Stottlemyer, who promoted Johnson to captain in 2012:

“I think he’s a calming influence on people.  I think he knows the people there, he knows what their concerns are, he can relate to them having come from that community.” …Stottlemyer said that at the time Johnson was rising in the ranks, there were fewer than 100 officers of color in a force of 1,200 officers. “He was a star, and it was obvious from the beginning.”  Stottlemyer said he promoted Johnson to Captain partly because he was impressed with his leadership style. “I observed when he was a corporal and a sergeant, the way he handled his men and the way he handled issues that comes up,” he said. “He communicates well with his people. He was an officer that you didn’t have complaints about.”

 Unfinished Business

The national debate set off by the Ferguson killing and aftermath is bigger than any one local community and any one law enforcement officer.  And however effective a leader Captain Johnson may be, the national controversy is large and getting larger, and many other players are now involved.  The media continues to portray the issue as either/or; as police v. community/community v. police.

But in all the controversy, it is reassuring to see real leadership in action, even in a small community, that transforms a situation and brings people together.  For his courage, his compassion, his authenticity, and his effective leadership, I am pleased to pick Capt. Johnson’s remarks on August 17 as the leadership and leadership communication moment of the year.

Your thoughts welcomed.

Fred

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
15 Oct 2014 | 10:51PM

This is my second in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

(See my earlier post, On Wall Street, Reputation, and Recovery: Guest Blog by Julia Sahin here.)

About two weeks ago, my Logos Institute colleague colleague Adam Tiouririne posted a blog about a particular part of the discipline we use at Logos, the creation of models that help channel both experience and research into more accurate predictions about the future.

The key to the model is that it makes predictions easier.  Says Adam,

“Every business leader lives with dozens of models… or formal frameworks for how the world works.  If prices go down, demand goes up; if the distance is longer, the shipping costs are higher; if advertising is targeted, consumers are more likely to buy.  No model can ever predict every outcome, but a good one usually comes close.  The key to consistently predicting the future is to craft experience and research into a model — your very own crystal ball.”

Logos Institute - Predictive Models - 2014 SepAn effective model has explanatory power — making sense of a past event — and predictive power — predicting the likelihood of something happening in the future.  A big part of our work at Logos Institute, and in my Crisis Management and Crisis Communication teaching at NYU and other institutions, is finding models with both explanatory and predictive power.  And I often encourage my NYU Capstone students to develop such models.

This year, Iris Wenting Xue took up the challenge, developing a model that helps leaders and those who advise them to understand public apologies – how to evaluate an existing apology, and how to plan to apologize when public trust and confidence are at risk.

The whole issue of a public apology is very timely, from Captain Ron Johnson apologizing on behalf of all law enforcement following the death of Michael Brown and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologizing to professional basketball stars in the aftermath of the Donald Sterling racist audiotapes.

Iris Wenting Xue

Iris Wenting Xue

Ms. Xue is now a research associate of the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership.  Her NYU capstone was titled, “A Strategic Sorry: Studies on Leaders’ Apologies Using a 10-C Checklist.”  In this work Ms. Xue joins such leaders as James Lukaszewski, whose own eight-step Lukaszewski’s Law of Trust Restoration is required reading in my courses.

Ms. Xue’s Capstone lays out a model: Ten considerations that leaders need to take seriously when they plan apologies.  Too many apologies, says Ms. Xue, are made top-of-mind, without reflecting on what both experience and research show works and doesn’t work.  Her 10-C Checklist provides clarity of criteria on framing an apology that is likely to work.  You can download her Capstone here.

The 10-C Checklist

by Iris Wenting Xue

Leaders contemplating an apology should reflect on ten considerations that can help the apology have its desired effect.

The ten considerations are:

  1. Characteristic:  What is the nature of the event that calls for an apology.  Was it intentional or accidental?  Natural or man-made?  Caused by something done that shouldn’t have been done, or something not done that should have been?  In other words, how much do we know about the thing for which we need to apologize?
  2. Consequence:  What is the nature of the harm?  How severe is it?  How widespread?  Was the harm economic loss?  Injury?  Death?  Insult?  Other?
  3. Culture: What’s the cultural context in which the harm was caused and in which the apology will be made?  Is apology expected?  Popular?  Necessary?  Is it frowned upon?   Is there a culturally-appropriate form of apology (e.g., ceremonial bow in Japan)?
  4. Channel: Where should the apology be made?  Directly to those affected?  Through the media or social media?  On video or just in writing?  In person?  All of the above?
  5. Content:  Is it clear what is being apologized for?  (E.g., what the offender did, not what the offended felt.)  Is the apology complete?  Does it explain how the event happened?  Does it ask for forgiveness?   Does it include an admission of accountability?  Does it commit to take steps to prevent a recurrence?  Does it offer restitution?
  6. Customization:  Is it a general or a customized apology? Is the content specifically tailored for the event in question and for those who need to hear it?  Or is it just a generic statement of regret?
  7.  Change:  Is the apology as drafted likely to change audiences’ attitudes towards the person apologizing, or to make matters worse?  Has the person apologizing committed to changing his or her behavior in the future?
  8. Control.  When will the apology happen?  Will it be seen to be spontaneous or forced?  Is it at offered before being demanded?  Only after demands for an apology have become public?
  9. Cause:  What will be the perceived incentive of the person apologizing?  Is it to genuinely achieve forgiveness? Or to reduce financial harm?  Or to keep one’s job that might otherwise be in jeopardy?
  10. Charisma:  Does the person apologizing enjoy good reputation? Is he or she otherwise respected and popular?  How many times has he or she had to apologize before?  Do those prior attempts make this one seem less sincere?

Reflecting on these ten considerations can help a leader, and those who advise the leader, to more likely craft an apology that will work.

In future posts I’ll share the work of other recent NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication graduates.  Stay tuned…

Even as America mourns and tries to make sense of Friday morning’s massacre in Aurora, Colorado, there are some lessons emerging on appropriate — and inappropriate — response to tragedy.

Context Drives Meaning

Context drives meaning.  Words, actions, or events that are perfectly appropriate one day may be wildly inappropriate, distasteful, offensive, or even inaccurate the next.  One key discipline for leaders and organizations is to continuously adapt to changing circumstances that may alter the context in which communication takes place.

The shooting that left 12 dead and 58 wounded in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater is such an event.

Unknown Object Read more

 View from the 23rd Floor by Laurel HartAt least so far, March is acting more lamb than lion here in New York City, but we’ll see what the rest of the month brings.

  • WikiLeaks: The first of a new set of emails obtained by WikiLeaks was released last week, with additional analysis from news organizations expected in the coming weeks.
  • Boycotts, Reputation and Bottom Line: With boycotts a recurring topic, this research from last fall caught our eye this past week: professor Brayden King at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University showed that “the stock price of a targeted company dropped nearly 1 percent for each day of national print media coverage.”  In addition, he found that “even if consumer behavior was unchanged by a boycott, a company’s stock price and reputation were not.” In addition, “25 percent [of boycotts generated] a concession from the target company.”
  • Limbaugh and Apology: There were ample examples of apologies and corporate statements surrounding the Limbaugh controversy this past week, including from Limbaugh himself, and former advertisers Carbonite, ProFlowers, Citrix, and others.
  • Facebook Assessment Tool: We’re fans of the US Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment, a helpful tool in evaluating online content, and were pleased to see this new Facebook assessment worksheet and checklist from the US Navy on evaluating strategy, administration, content, measurement and more, on David Rosen’s blog.
  • Newspapers and New Business Models: Newly released research from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found “for every $1 gained in digital, $7 are lost in print revenue,” highlighting the challenges many newspapers face in implementing new business models today.

Recent public apologies from Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Tiger Woods made me wonder why we accept some apologies and denounce others.
Which components of a public apology show us that it is authentic and sincere and, therefore, that we can accept it? Is there a perfect public apology?

Goldman Takes The Lead

When Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein issued a public mea culpa, his goal was to convince the public that he accepted responsibility for and deeply regretted his firm’s role in the financial crisis. As a form of restitution, he offered to have Goldman invest $500 million over five years to help small businesses. Mr. Blankfein’s was the first official apology by an investment bank of that caliber, which is by itself a unique occurrence. And yet, Goldman’s apology caused a mixed reaction.
Some stakeholders gave the company credit for taking the initiative to apologize and for its willingness to help small businesses. Most others, including the general public, questioned the sincerity of the apology and its real value. The media called it a “faux apology”, a “non-apology”, a “hollow apology”, and an “unspecified apology.” The author of Mean Street blog (WSJ) Evan Newmark called it a “big PR exercise” that is “so sequenced and packaged that it’s bound to come across as disingenuous, even deeply cynical.
The negative public reaction was caused mainly by the apparent disconnect between Goldman’s carefully calibrated message and real issues that the company still needs to fix if it is to restore public trust and earn forgiveness.

Tiger One Over Par
Tiger Woods’ attempts to apologize also caused a mixed public reaction.
On November 27, 2009 Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant near his house. After the incident brought to light many affairs, Woods posted two separate apologies on his website, several days apart.
After the first apology mainstream media, bloggers, vendors, corporate sponsors, and the golf community expressed major disappointment and dismay at Woods’ behavior and did not accept his apology as sufficient. Woods’ story caused a lot of debate even among the apology experts. The only stakeholders who showed support were his fans. Most of them accepted his apology, demonstrating higher tolerance for his personal failings.

Woods’ second apology was more successful and resulted in mostly positive reviews among his fans, critics, media, the golf community etc. It could have been even more effective if the athlete had come clean earlier and had delivered the apology in person rather than on his website.

Why Didn’t the Apologies Work?

Why didn’t people believe Goldman Sachs CEO’s apology? Why did Woods’ first apology reach his fans but did not convince others? Why did his second apology result in more positive reaction among his stakeholders?
What type of public apology do people need to hear to be able to believe it and accept it?
The authors of “The Five Languages of Apology,” Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, might have an answer. Read more

Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites . . . operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.

– Yahoo! Spokesperson, September 2005

 

 

 

 

 

Human rights trump doing business.  . . .  Internet companies must learn when not to hide behind the notion that we are corporations so it is our number one obligation just to do business. It isn’t our number one obligation. Our number one obligation is to be good world citizens.

– Carol Bartz, Yahoo! CEO, Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit, May 2009

 

 

 

 

What a difference media attention, a lawsuit, Congressional hearings, and ousting the CEO makes. Like earlier corporate responsibility poster children under intense pressure from stakeholders (see Nike), Yahoo is transforming itself from a laggard to a leader.

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A public apology is a good way to express remorse and offer reconciliation to an affected party. But the very act of apologizing can be daunting.

If delivered effectively, an apology can mend relationships and restore trust between two or more parties.

If delivered effectively, an apology can help maintain company’s competitive advantage, reduce litigation costs and minimize business disruptions.

If delivered effectively, an apology can create a perception of genuine regret on behalf of the offender and mend his or her reputation.

But here is a question:

Can an effective delivery distract the audience from an insufficient apology?

And,

Can a weak delivery diminish a powerful message of a genuine apology?

I invite you to look at three recent apologies and share your opinion about the effectiveness of each apology is in terms of its message and its presentation.

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