We should act with humility when things go wrong….and then make them right.
I get things wrong sometimes. Unfortunately, I’m not a perfect leader. There are times when I miss the mark and other times that I’ve outright blown it. None of us are perfect.
There are going to be times when you drop the ball as a leader and your team falls short. There are going to be occasions where you’ll have a big miss as well. It’s just a part of life! When you disappoint a customer or client it’s almost always in one of these three categories: Operational breakdown, service blunders, and widespread tragedies.
Three types of service failures that deserve an apology When you disappoint a customer or client it’s almost always in one of these three categories: Operational breakdown, service blunders widespread tragedies.
Operational breakdowns: These types of service failures occur when there is a breakdown in the process that causes frustration for your customer. Not having the right product for a sale, service, or product not arriving when promised or a policy that gets in the way of service are just a few examples.
Service blunders: We’ve all experienced these. People say one thing and then do another or they don’t answer your communications in a timely manner. Another obvious example is how a person treats the customer or client.
Widespread Tragedy: These are certainly out of your control. Think natural disasters, or a tragic loss on the team. While you can’t control when or how these occur, how you react and accept responsibility does matter immensely to the customer.
These types of service failures don’t just apply to your business life. Operational breakdowns happen as you lose control of your time management, service blunders happen as you drop the ball on a commitment and we all go through tragedies in life.
Tips to apologize in an authentic way
It’s easy to say the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s more difficult to believe it yourself sometimes, much less convincing the other person that your apology is truly heartfelt.
Have a swift response: A disgruntled person only gets angrier if they feel like they are being ignored. Think about a time when you experienced a service issue and no one gave you the attention you needed. You likely felt your patience wear thin pretty quickly
Show humility and empathy: This is one of the key actions to turn around a bad situation. If your apology is authentic, you’ll be on a much quicker road to resolving the situation. if your apology is perceived as fake or just lip service, then the situation may escalate even further.
Accept responsibility: Avoiding responsibility is one of the quickest ways to dig yourself into a deeper hole with the person you let down. Take responsibility to fix the problem even if it wasn’t your fault. Own the issue that is being communicated to you.
Provide an honest explanation: Truthfully share how the failure in service or commitment occurred while avoiding making excuses. Don’t hide behind a policy; it’s an easy out that no one likes to hear.
Extend an olive branch: Right the situation and rebuild the relationship. You should feel empowered to take care of concerns and complaints as they happen. If you don’t feel empowered, let your leader know so the two of you can work on a potential solution together. Do what needs to be done within reason to amend the mistake.
Instead of running away from responsibility and trying to push blame elsewhere, step up and own the mistake. Apologize with sincerity and authenticity and work to make things right with the other person. This is a lost skill in today’s public eye. Stand out above the crowd by turning your apologies into a strong point of your leadership.
Feedback in life and in work is essential for our personal growth. It’s important for you as a leader, friend, and family member to share feedback that adds value to the person that you are giving it to.
Equally important to the actual feedback that you give is the setting in which you give it. I know I have been guilty of mentally shutting down in the past when the feedback was given at the worst time and delivered without much thought put into it. I’ve also mishandled giving feedback because I was more concerned with the delivery instead of how it was delivered.
When to give feedback in a group setting
There are times when giving feedback in a group setting is your ideal option
More than one person on the team was involved in the problem or issue that the feedback is about.
The issue involves the majority of the team.
People want to hear feedback from the source and not 2nd or 3rd hand from someone else. Do your best to give feedback directly to the group that is involved so that they can hear it straight from you and seek any further clarifications.
When the team falls short, a coach huddles the team up and talks through the play. In the military, your squad or platoon is often given feedback together because of how close they work together towards a goal. At home, maybe the kids collectively didn’t meet your expectations. When the group is involved, share it with them as a whole.
When to give feedback one-on-one
There are other times when giving individual feedback is the appropriate setting.
The feedback is meant for an individual
The feedback is of personal nature
People hate it when their time is wasted. When you pull in a whole team to give feedback in a general way that was caused by one person, you aren’t being effective with anyone. The ones not involved will see this as a waste of their time and it will hurt your credibility. The person that actually needs the feedback, may either be embarrassed, which hurts your trust level, or they feel anonymous and don’t take your feedback to heart. You lose all-around in this scenario!
Have the managerial courage to have a one-on-one conversation with the person and address them directly. If the feedback is personal in nature, always take time to address it directly instead of using someone else to give the feedback.
Be sure to give one-on-one feedback in a setting that is quiet and non-distracting if possible and away from other curious ears.
When not to give feedback
Some of the best feedback I have ever given was not actually giving it to the other person. Counterintuitive? It may sound that way, but you need to check the reason behind the need for feedback.
You don’t want to let your emotions fully drive feedback. You’ll only offer feedback that pushes the person away, potentially damaging a relationship and giving your feedback a 0% chance of acceptance. Think about all the viral videos of people in full rage mode yelling at someone in public. Obviously, emotions have gotten the best of the person, and without a doubt, whatever they say is not going to change the situation for the better. Perhaps you are not going to go viral in fits of anger, but your emotions are clouding your thoughts on feedback. Take time to settle down, reflect and then determine if the feedback is worth giving.
We have said before that it’s important to give coaching and feedback as close to the issues or occurrence as possible. There will be times where you’ll want to give instant feedback, but maybe you take a step back and see the fuller picture and consider what else is going on. Feedback given from a very narrow perspective is rarely taken well and actioned on even less than that.
Reflect on the why behind your feedback. Are you giving it to make the person better or because it makes you feel better? If it’s for yourself, it may be best to not give it at all.
Think about your feedback and the setting that you are giving it to the other person. Maximize your gift to others by giving it in a thoughtful and caring way in the right setting. They will be more likely to appreciate it and take it to heart.
The talk of the great resignation is the hot topic these days in the business world. Some companies are working to get ahead of the exodus of talent from the organization, others are afraid to even broach the topic in fear of speaking it into existence and a small group just blames the workers for not wanting to work anymore. (EP 292, 4 Phrases to remove from your leadership talk)
The dynamic has shifted and people feel more empowered not to settle and are looking for a place that pays fairly, allows them to have a healthy personal life, and equips them to grow in their careers.
I’ve led for years with the mindset of People Over Positions. As I teach the concept to other leaders, I always frame it up in terms of resources. With enough time, I can fill any role in any organization, but I only get one (your name here). If you knew that you only had one of a particular resource, wouldn’t you want to take care of and nurture it like your life depended on it?
The concept, while simple, certainly has been an Ah-ha moment for leaders as they think about how they currently treat and prioritize their people and key roles across the organization. Here are some tips on how you can live out the People over Positions concept with your team and build a highly efficient team and sticks around for the long term.
Make the person’s personal time a priority
You’ve heard countless stories of people that have sacrificed large periods of their personal and family lives in order to get a job done. I was that person for a while, and it caused me to have a weird sense of a badge of honor and a chip on my shoulder like the company owed me something. I took realizing that I was out of balance and stepping up to difficult conversations at times to get back on track.
Your team should never feel like they can’t have a life outside of work or have to sacrifice large personal goals in order to collect their paycheck. Some ways that you can make your team’s personal time include:
Be as accomodating as possible to time-off requests: Ensure that the person doesn’t feel guilt for taking the time.
Cover small investments like books and seminars. Could the person cover the cost of a $22 book? Likely, but the gesture is worth far more.
Be authentically engaged in their personal hobbies, passions, and family adventures. Learn family members’ names, and take a genuine interest beyond, “How are you?” Open up your conversations with the personal aspects to show them it’s a priority for you.
Help them move on
Part of People over Positions is helping people move on to the next thing that they want to do. I’ve had leaders struggle a bit with this point in the past. “Why would I want to give up someone that’s so important to my team?” (We call that a Blocker in my world because they are blocking the talent pipeline behind them)
Everyone is where they are for a season. Eventually, you are going to move on from your role and so will each member of your team. Now imagine how that person feels when you are actively involved in their career aspirations.
They feel cared for. It’s an active effort that shows you are caring for them on a personal level. The fun benefit here is that they begin to care for their teammates in a very personal way when they themselves feel cared for.
They are more effective than ever. As you invest in your person, that investment begins to pay off before they move on. Their larger sense of the business or the added context of an entirely different area makes them better in the role that they are in today.
Your hiring costs go down. When a person feels cared for they are going o stick around longer. They are also going to shorten your time to fill open roles because they will be willing and ready to take on the new challenge. You also have an advantage of a person coming into the new role with a strong sense of context to have more of an immediate impact on their new work.
Ways that you can help
Support academic learning – from books to classes
Support time needed to learn and study.
Give them stretch assignments
Provide them opportunities to explore curiosities and career journeys across the organization
Be a connector. Connect them to other key people in the company that can help propel their career
Help them prepare their successor
Model it yourself
In order to fully live out the People over Position concept, you’ve got to include yourself in that process as well. That means you’ve got to bring balance in your life and not have your job be your life. Certainly, it’s a part of your life, but it’s not healthy for it to be all-encompassing in your life. What would happen if the business folded or your position went away? Not only do you lose your income, but your sense of purpose and value also disappears in an instant.
Show others that you are prioritizing your health, time away from work, and investing in yourself so that others know it’s ok and safe to do the same themselves. You can give them all the empowerment in the world, but you don’t live out what you talk about, then the person is much less likely to take healthy action.
Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) became a hot trend at forward-thinking companies and continues to be the norm in some industries and circles. What people found is that while the company offered unlimited PTO, people were actually taking less time off than other companies with a more traditional vacation policy. It’s the classic example of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Be sure you are walking your talk.
Keep it in context
People over Positions can be a game-changer in the mindset of how you and other leaders engage your people. While the approach puts a priority on care, it doesn’t mean you put your business at the bottom of the priority list. With this concept you still on occasion:
May ask a person to make a small sacrifice in time to help the team meet a critical goal.
May need to connect in “off hours” on something that can not wait until the next business day.
May ask them to do a task that they aren’t happy with.
Absolutely keep your accountability high with this approach to your team. They will be more willing to step up when they know that you care for them. Don’t be afraid to reach out about asks from the above points, just be mindful not to overuse the asks, and that it’s an appropriate level of urgency to warrant the interaction.
Care and invest in your people. Remember that you only get one of that unique individual for a set amount of time. Your legacy will grow as others go out and model your influence, your business will become stronger and you’ll have a higher sense of purpose as a result.
Empathy, Sympathy, and Pity. Besides a catchy title to a podcast, it’s three words and that have different meanings and that can get a leader tripped up and cost the leader personal credibility when they get these three confused.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
We covered the topic of empathy in detail on previous shows and newsletters. Empathy is certainly the strongest of the three emotions. It requires a connection to the person and the situation and will also cause you to act in a caring and compassionate way.
Empathy is the gold mine for relational leadership. It allows you to quickly build trust with others to establish great working relationships that pay off. Acting on empathy also empowers the leader to connect with the team while holding on to strong expectations and standards.
As a young leader, I was very black and white. Either you met the standard and expectation on you didn’t. I thought that when someone had clear expectations and resources to get the job done and they didn’t then, it was on them. Growing in empathy helped me to begin mastering the grey areas of leadership. It allowed me to meet them where they were and then show them a path to their own greatness.
I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t value a strong relationship with their leader where they felt valued and challenged to be their best.
An Affinity association or relationship between a person or thing where whatever affects one similarly affects the other.
Sympathy is a way to connect with others, but it usually means that the leader’s feeling is not as intense and the connection level is not as deep either.
Sympathy can get the best of leaders in a number of ways. For some leaders, sympathy leads to lowering their expectations or leading inconsistently across the team. This is especially true for leaders that aren’t balanced in their approach and are too relational in their leadership and relationship with the team. For some savvy employees, they will take advantage of this dynamic will turn you into an enabler to their inconsistent and bad behaviors.
For other leaders, they may feel sympathy, but then don’t know what to do with it. Do you ask if you can help? Do you just express it verbally and then try to awkwardly move on? I would suggest some type of action when you feel that sympathy for others. Don’t ask, because they may not feel comfortable asking for help or assistance. It can be a small gesture like a gift card to a restaurant so they don’t have to worry about cooking a meal to clearing out and covering a schedule so they have some time away.
Act on your sympathy towards others.
The feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.
The definition itself doesn’t sound too bad, but pity often comes across as condescending. You can be seen as putting yourself on a pedestal, believing that you are better than someone else or that you feel sorry for them.
The feeling of pity often leads to inaction. You see it, recognize it and then keep moving on. Take the feeling of pity and then turn it through the lens of empathy. Route the feeling through a positive and healthy approach so that the other person feels valued and cared for during your interaction with them.
Pity is a feeling and emotion which means it isn’t bad. It’s just an emotion! How you act and react to that feeling is what can give someone a negative view of your personal behavior and beliefs.
It’s important to understand the differences between these three types of feelings and what your natural reaction are to them so that you can react appropriately when the situation occurs.
People hold on to long memories of how others treated, handled, and helped them when they needed it. Grow your self-awareness around these so that you can lead others well, become a model leader for others to follow, and turn tough situations in a positive direction.
It’s hard to be empathetic with a person when they don’t come out and tell us what the situation is or what they are going through.
Develop a keen awareness and remember back to the power of body language (EP 186). People often telegraph that they are struggling and their need to talk before they communicate it verbally.
Take a proactive approach and reach out to the person. Then listen well and be willing to open up at least a little to the other person. Sometimes leaders in an effort to connect with others end up making it about themselves instead. Be very aware not to turn the focus towards yourself during the conversation.
Remember that empathy goes both ways and when you make yourself vulnerable and listen well you are allowing the other person to return empathy back to you in the situation.
Roadblock #2: Prejudice both known and unknown
The prejudice that we have towards general cultures or types of people can be a major hurdle to empathy.
Clairborne Paul Ellis was a man that grew up in poverty and thought that African Americans were the ones that were the cause of these troubles. He followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the KKK. His hatred for African Americans became a driving force in his life. He was later asked to be a part of a community group to tackle racial tensions in schools because of this prominence in the town.
Ellis worked alongside an African American woman named Ann Atwater. He hated Atwater and obviously had no empathy towards her. Ellis eventually learned about Ann’s similar stories about poverty and began to realize that his situation had nothing to do with another people group. His empathy began to grow and it pushed him to action. He renounced his KKk membership, became lifelong friends with Atwater, and organized a union that had a 70% African American membership. Ellis’s story is a powerful one that shows how empathy can impact your own life.
Question the prejudices that you know about in your own life and dig down deep to find those ones that you don’t realize that you have. Make an effort to connect with people from those groups and situations in order to establish a new perspective on things.
Roadblock #3: Missing the person for the problem
I’ve recently had several different leaders across multiple industries reach out to PTB about how to handle employee performance issues and potential actions that should be taken. It seems to be the number one thing that makes leaders hesitant or afraid of.
People know, or have heard at least heard, horror stories of these events. Conversations gone sideways. Freakouts. Violence. The fallout afterward. I’ve never had this happen to me once I harnessed the power of empathy.
The problem is that the leader gets hyper-focused on the problem, or what the offending person did and they act out in hostility or anger when having the conversation. This, of course, causes a reaction in the other person, and thus another horror story of accountability gone wrong is born.
You may understand and know the problem, ensure that you use your empathy to understand the root reason why they acted the way that they did. Treat them like a person by giving them honor and respect no matter the situation. They are still human after all. Taking this approach will make these conversations much more successful. I lean heavily into my empathy skills while having these conversations. As odd as it sounds, I’ve gotten multiple handshakes and hugs after letting people go. Empathy is powerful.
Use your knowledge in empathy to grow your ability to connect with others in a meaningful way. Your likability with others will increase, your decision-making ability will be more thought out and your ability to navigate tough employee conversations will be strong.