Let’s stop the non-apology apology: the do’s and don’ts of “I’m sorry.”

I'm sorry graphic 4.12.17

It’s been a rough week for the people and companies issuing apologies. From Oscar Muñoz to Sean Spicer, the word “apology” seems to be a fixture on the news crawl.

The problem is that too often the apology isn’t an apology and the person saying it isn’t really apologizing. Rather, they are apologizers or apologists, justifying an unpopular or improper thing and excusing themselves from accountability. Or, they’ve spent so much time being apologizers and apologists previously that by the time they authentically apologize for the bone-headed move, it’s too late and their credibility is already eroded. Basically, in these moments, they stink at apologizing.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. Defending your boss or standing behind your employees is NOT an excuse for gross negligence in your job as a leader. It is not an excuse for passing the buck or trying to spin something awful. It is not an excuse for hurting the people you serve verbally or physically. There is very simply no excuse for it. Certainly not when there is disturbing video of a human being bloodied and likely unconscious in the aisle of one of your planes — on your watch, on the orders of your frontline employees. It’s not okay. Period. End of story. (Note: If your communications staffs suck at apologizing too and can’t help you do it better, it’s really time to restructure.)

In situations that require apologies — not in a case where you are defending a true and authentic cause — there are do’s and don’ts of apologizing. Here are the helpful definitions that may improve all these sad apologies we are seeing far too often.

Do this: 

a·pol·o·gy — A regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

Say the words, tell people you regret what has happened and that you are holding yourself accountable for the mistake. Give them assurances the horrible thing won’t ever happen again. Do it quickly, do it definitively and follow your words up with transparent actions. Do think of an apology as something you owe your constituents, a tab that has to be settled for having the privilege of being a leader.

Don’t do this and don’t be this:

a·pol·o·gist — A person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial.

Don’t make excuses. Don’t try to justify the thing and make it seem like it wasn’t your fault. Don’t shift blame. Don’t spin it and think believers outnumber cynics. Don’t lash out at your critics. Don’t delay. Don’t swing and miss at the first apology and think you can hit a home run later. Don’t let your ego take over.

Some people believe that apologizing affects credibility in negative ways. That’s completely false.

Apologizing badly affects your credibility. Doing it right and authentically does build credibility and positively enhances your reputation. It makes you human and empathetic. I say it every day, and I mean it when I say it.

Apologizing is a muscle of humanity I try to exercise as often as I can.

Like any other skill, the more you practice apologizing, the better you get. The more you practice, the more you will find that the corrosive aspects of your ego get pushed into the back seat. Until people, companies and governments stop doing knuckle-headed things, we will have to learn to excel at apologizing. And that’s when we become more effective leaders and more civilized human beings.

Content Laboratory

Is there one single trait all great content creators must have?


No. There isn’t one single trait, or skill, needed to make a content creator great. Content creators must have several of the traits/skills on the list to consistently produce original content that is readable, engaging . . . and credible.

But wait. There’s more.

There is a staggering quantity of bad original content out there. The why of this is actually pretty easy to diagnose. First and foremost, there are many, many thoughts and ideas that cross our brains every single day. Not all of these thoughts (probably very few) are worthy of becoming a post or other content for audience consumption. Too many mediocre thoughts do leak outside our heads and onto our social media channels. It’s the same as going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and heaping the plate so full it can barely be carried back to the table. This is when a communications diet may be warranted.

Not every idea needs to end up on the communications plate.

So strategic thinking and ideation may be one reason why all this lousy content is happening. But plenty of these ideas are great and worthy, so there’s another reason we have to consider in our diagnosis. Great content doesn’t miraculously appear out of thin air because you have a thought or even a terrific insight. Ideas are important, but if you can’t execute because you don’t possess at least a few other traits, the original content won’t be great. It won’t be great consistently. One particular skill stands out above all the other skills needed to execute well.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Writing matters.

Writing matters a lot. It matters because when it’s not good, it not only doesn’t show your ideas in the best light, it makes you look like you don’t care.

Bad writing is like pitching new business to a client in a wrinkled, stained shirt and torn sweat pants.

Every day I read original content that contains some wonderful insights buried deep within poor writing. Now is a good time to note that this isn’t about English, or any other language, as a second language. There is bad writing in every language. While grammar and spelling are important, we’re not talking about perfection here. (Busted. I ended a sentence with a preposition.) It isn’t about that. This is about highlighting a great idea or insight with credible writing that is as engaging, readable and entertaining as possible.

When bad writing happens you’ve not only lost my attention, your ideas and reputation are circling the drain.

If you don’t write in a way that puts your ideas in a good spotlight, it’s probably smart to find some help. It’s not about being intelligent or not intelligent. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have developed a lack of respect for the skill and art form of writing. Possibly for liberal arts as a whole. That’s a mistake. Not everyone can write in a way that engages broad audiences externally and internally for our organizations. It’s not possible to be good at everything. Not everyone should try to be a brain surgeon. My developers would really like me to steer clear of mucking around in the code of our ContentWeb application. They’re right. I’m nowhere in the vicinity of being able to do that job. Of course I should stick to what I’m good at. (Oops! Another preposition at the end of a sentence.)

Ideas are the heart of great content. But they can’t stand alone. Content creators need many traits and skills to consistently put out great content. Most if not all of the traits on the list above, at least with regard to content creation, are symbiotic. Basic business writing is one thing, but if we’re going to develop the best content creators we can on our teams, we have to respect and cultivate the important skills and talents needed to do the job. Once we’ve done that, we’ll go from all-you-can-eat communications junk food to five-star communications fine dining. (Yep. Just pushed that metaphor way too far.)

Content Laboratory

Here’s My One Piece of Advice for Up-and-Coming Executives. What’s Yours?


There’s one piece of advice I give to young, talented, up-and-coming communications and marketing executives when asked. They’re often surprised to hear it. I think, usually, they’re looking for the golden goose to be handed over. The one pearl of wisdom that will have them rocketing to the top of the food chain. They may be hoping for the super special secret handshake that will get them the title and rewards they’ve dreamed of.

The advice is based on more than 25 years of my version of success in varied executive roles, including the top of the ladder that I’d ever hoped to climb. However, it is not the key to vast riches and power. Rather, my advice is the key to happiness and peace of mind while in a position of power. This little bit of advice is the key to the kingdom where strong values and personal satisfaction rule.

Know your boundaries and don’t ever get pushed over the line by anyone, for any reason.

This is about knowing who you are and what you stand for in this world. It’s about the people you stand up for. You cross the line enough and it disappears entirely. Then what? It’s not corny to say that in this life we have nothing if we don’t have our integrity. We have less than nothing if we gave it away for our ambitions. Our values are everything in my opinion and it makes no sense in the long run to trade that for power or income. If honesty is a value you hold dear, don’t be a spokesperson for a liar (person or organization). Certainly don’t do it because you feel you’ll make VP if you do. My experience behind this advice is real — if you know yourself and you stay true to your values, you can still make VP or higher with your core intact. You just may not be able to do it in the same organization or for the same boss that is testing your foundation.

Values aren’t all shared with everyone, including our colleagues. In fact, they will very rarely match up line for line. Loyalty may be more important than honesty to your colleagues or your boss. The compass that is made up of our values is personal. We should choose our path for ourselves and how we will serve the people we care about in this life. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pushed in a direction we don’t want, believe in, or that is not worthy of our personal sense of right and wrong.

There certainly are a lot of opinions out there in the world, but maybe not enough advice from experienced professionals to help the next generation leaders navigate the difficult choices they have now and ahead of them.

I’d love to hear what you say to those who are making their way in the professional world and up the executive ladder of success. What’s your one piece of great advice?

Content Laboratory

Do 1 Thing to Stop Being an Email Victim


Enough. Seriously. Enough already of the productivity hacks around “dealing with email.” (Note: Let’s stop using the word “hack” overall). If anyone is peddling tricks and tips for handling more and more emails in your world, run away – don’t walk. If someone is naming and even branding their twisted little rituals for managing an exploding inbox, don’t buy into it. Email overload isn’t a trauma or an assault. It isn’t an evil invader coming for you every morning. It doesn’t require extraordinary shields to keep it from taking over your life. Email overload is something we do to ourselves because we give it way too much power.

Email isn’t an invader and we are not victims of its effect on our work lives.

Why do we give email so much power? Because most of us use email as a communications hub. Bad idea. The end all be all of communications it is not. For executives and leaders, the Catch 22 of email as a communications hub is troubling. The more we try to read everything that comes through, respond to and triage high volume, the more our effectiveness as leaders erodes. You can’t see the big picture, you can’t give teams white space to think and innovate, and you sure can’t enable and develop your people if you’re in the weeds. It’s lousy behavior to model and pass along to your teams. When you obsess about email, the message you are sending is that busy is more important than results. No matter what super special process or trick you have, you’re still obsessing. Email is a hamster wheel that keeps us constantly spinning with success out of reach for us and our teams.

Stop making email your primary communications hub.

You have a lot of responsibilities and accountabilities. You do, absolutely. But that has nothing to do with email directly. As a leader, you can’t miss something big that might come through email. There are opportunities that come through email and your teams are counting on your response, approval, etc. Leaders in the service sector can’t miss a client email or something that affects clients. No doubt.

Nobody is asking you to stop being accountable or completely ignore your email. What is called for is to pick your head up out of it more often to address all the other important duties we have as leaders.

No complicated rituals needed. We can achieve more email sanity by doing one thing better.

This one thing will help guide our people about how to treat their leaders and each other better with regard to email. Don’t use email for the kind of knowledge/content sharing and collaboration that is better served by far, far better tools at our disposal. First and most important is face time (over Face Time or the old fashioned ways). You can say you’re doing as much of it today as possible, but if you’re obsessing over email, objectively, you really can do more. Have you trained people around you to use email as the only access point to you because you’re overloaded during the work day?

Way too much is put over email rather than more personal tools — period.

We can go over all the reasons why email has eclipsed real, face-to-face interactions and it’s not necessary. Bad use of time. We all know it’s a problem. And, there are other tools that are far better than email for knowledge/content sharing and collaboration. If every bit of content or knowledge (including slide decks, etc.) is swirled around over email for comments, approvals, editing, and sharing for final use — of course we’re bogged down in email because it really isn’t an ideal tool for this in today’s day and age. Most of the modern tools for sharing and collaboration aggregate things for action into one single email each day. This kind of tool helps our teams better plan their timelines and deadlines rather than assuming you’ll get the eleventh hour one-off email needed for approval of their project. (Note: If you’re using collaboration tools so complicated they make people cringe — there are other tools that are actually easier and we should use them).

We train people how to treat us and each other. Don’t be victimized be email or you’re just making daily life miserable for yourself and others. Take the power away from email and use face time along with efficient, better tools that move the ball forward and make work easier for everyone.


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Busy is Overrated. Leaders: Share the Pledge to Stop Glorifying It.


I am guilty of glorifying busy. I’ve done it and admit it. Now, with eyes wide open, I’m taking the pledge to stop. Busy is overrated. It’s a brand whose promise is false. It’s taken me and the teams I work with down the rocky road and I’m not buying into it anymore. I pledge to give myself the white space to truly perform. To take a breath and innovate. To slow my roll and focus on the relevant and meaningful things that lead to genuine success.

Busy does not equal success.

No marketing launch ever succeeded because you have 1,000 unread emails in your inbox. No crisis was ever brought to successful conclusion because your calendar is booked solid for the next 6 months. No great innovation was ever brought into the world because your team is “completely slammed right now.” No exceptional talent was ever taken to the next level because they have little to no work life balance and work 24/7. No matter how much you love your work, these are not the causes of anything but misery.

“My inbox is out of control.” “I’m booked solid for the next 3 months.” “I have zero time for anything new.” “It’s crazy now, but it will get better after . . . ” (launch, crisis, etc.)

Too often, we measure our relevancy based on how much we have on our plate — how many meetings we have on our schedule, travel, emails, hours and other irrelevant measures.

We equate busy with power, influence and relevancy. But this is false.

We cling to busy because we believe it is expected or inflicted upon us. It’s rarely inflicted on us 100%. We have control over our choices. In terms of expectations, the busier you look, the more valuable you are to your company. The busier our teams look, the more needed we are as a leader and a team. Right? The busier we are, the more resources we get. Wrong. Resources and genuine respect come from excellent leadership and business results that matter. (Note: If you’re in a company where these things don’t matter, you’ve got career problems that busy won’t solve anyway.)

There is no event that will cause the busy effect to just end on it’s own. It won’t get better after . . . [insert whatever is consuming all your time and attention]. It simply won’t. If you are bought into busy, this is a ride at the carnival you never step off of and you never take a break from it. As a leader, if you’re constantly crazy busy, you are likely so far in the weeds you can’t even glimpse the big picture as it flies past you at warp speed on the crazy carousel you’re riding. This isn’t helping you, your team goals or your team members. When busy is eclipsing the relevant things, it feels a lot like chaos because it is chaos.

Busy shouldn’t be glorified. When we change the way we think about it, we change the power it has over us and our teams.

Busy has the same effect on our teams that constant chaos has on a family. It is demoralizing when it feels like there is no focus, like everyday is spinning, like you’re just one wrong step from falling over the edge. This death grip on the status quo of busy is getting in the way of contentment for ourselves as leaders and certainly for our teams. Someone has to be the hero in this situation.

We do have some control over this. It isn’t set in stone as a mandatory factor in our path to the top of our careers. Quite the opposite.

Busy should be embarrassing to us rather than being a badge of honor. We have to change the story. We have to view busy as taking a lot from us. Busy takes an important rudder away from our teams. Busy takes white space from teams to think through the important messages, come up with the next amazing innovation and then execute in a way that can achieve real success.

We can get control of busy by doing things differently. We can triage our priorities better. We don’t have to read every email, send every email or treat email like it’s a communications hub. We don’t have to attend every meeting. Most importantly, we can get control of busy by using tools that allow our teams to collaborate better, to share resources better and work better — not work more.

But it all starts with recognizing there is a problem, calling it what it is and taking the power away from it. Let’s change the story for ourselves and our teams. Take the pledge to slow your roll by sharing #busyisoverrated.


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