There are apologies and there are apologies.
As more and more organizations and their leaders in our society come under scrutiny for misdeeds, bad decisions, criminal acts, they are finding that the act of apology is a critical piece in moving through a crisis and regaining the reputation they once had.
Reputation management is what organizations must do if they are to continue their existence. Public trust and public will can build or destroy those reputations. It does not matter if you are a celebrity or a small non-profit, your survival depends greatly on the Court of Public Opinion. Famed financier Warren Buffet once said that it can take twenty or more years to build a solid reputation. But it only takes twenty minutes to destroy it!
Apologies to the public for any transgression are, therefore, critical. It might be for statements made by employees or leaders, or it might be for actions or decisions made by corporate entities. Reading or watching the news these days will identify at least three per week from around the world.
Celebrity X apologizes for racist remarks. Company Y apologizes for a decision which led to marketing unsafe products. Nonprofit group K apologizes for not properly supervising an employee who has since been charged with crimes against the non-profit’s clients. We see it in our newspapers weekly.,
But apologies can be tricky things. The aim is to be transparent and reassure the public that the individual or organization has learned from its errors and is taking steps to rectify the situation.
However, too often, many apologies actually do the reverse. They are what I would call ‘defensive’ apologies, as in “I’m sorry you took offense at…” The message here is, you’re the one with the problem, not us. You are too sensitive. Our actions were justifiable but we’re sorry you feel differently. It’s a common response. We see it on a personal level all the time; an acknowledgement that the other person is upset but the apologizer is also defending and excusing their actions.
So it is truly refreshing when I see an apology that is just that: A heartfelt, deeply contrite apology that clearly indicates the organization acknowledges its failings, apologizes for the hurts to known victims, sets out a plan for restoration and change in behaviour, sets out plans for restitution and opens the doors for other unknown victims to receive help.
One of the best examples I have seen is the response this week of the Board of Directors of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) after repeated accusations against the Christian evangelist and apologist that was brought to the Board’s attention over the past few years by a number of women.
My comments here are not about the accusations themselves. The Board’s response deals with that.
I just want to commend the members for dealing with this issue and apologizing in such a profound and deeply humbling way. I get that it is hard to grapple with such things, especially when accusations are made against your organization’s leader whom you admire, support and respect. It is hard to hear negatives. Every fibre in your being rejects what you are hearing or reading. So when truth emerges, the realities can be a shock.
It takes real leadership to acknowledge the harsh realities and especially your own failings in the process.
I commend that RZIM Board for its forthright and very humble response.
THAT is an apology!
To read the full apology by the RZIM Board, click here: https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-updates/board-statement