The Power of Apology

I’m sorry. Two short words (OK—one is a contraction.), yet they carry so many different meanings. Sometimes they aren’t enough or hardly matter. Other times, they carry a heavy weight. What you say, when you say it, whether you choose to say it, and how you say it can affect your relationships and your leadership and, therefore, your success.

The offhand “sorry” comes when you accidentally bump into someone while walking or your cart hits theirs in the supermarket. You make that quick apology. The other person says, “it’s OK.” or says nothing at all. Not saying “excuse me” or “sorry” makes you rude, but in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter that much.

An apology carries a deeper import if your mind wanders in a conversation, and you didn’t hear what the other party was saying. It’s embarrassing, but you both will get past that quickly as long as you don’t drift off repeatedly. Avoiding the “sorry” can cause a bump in a relationship if you try to fake it and get caught.

Apologies become more significant when you have made a big mistake, such as forgetting a meeting, failing to follow-through on something you promised you would do, or saying something that revealed your implicit bias. Do you acknowledge your error? Try to minimize it? Hope it won’t be noticed? What should a leader do?

Niki Jorgensen discusses The Emotionally Intelligent Way to Apologize for a Mistake at Work. She says to be effective you need to choose your words and the correct time to make an apology. Your body language when making it also contributes to its effectiveness.

Jorgensen describes two things you should consider before making an apology:

Is an apology necessary? How to Decide – Don’t automatically rush into a long apology before taking the time to stop and think. How significant was your mistake? If you always apologize profusely, this detracts from what you say when your error was significant.

Observe the body language of the other person. Are they upset? That may provide an indication of the seriousness of your error and the impact it may have on your relationship. This is particularly true when what you said revealed your implicit bias. You need to apologize as soon as you become aware of your mistake. We all have these biases. What is important is that we recognize them when they appear and acknowledge them.

How to apologize professionally Jorgensen says to “evaluate the reasons behind the incident, the impacts on others and ways to prevent similar mistakes moving forward.” Apologizing in private is important and is more likely to  allow an open interchange. Avoid the temptation to get it all out quickly.

Apologizing is usually uncomfortable, but you also need to show you are listening to the other person’s response – and watching their body language. While you may be the one apologizing, it is an important opportunity to listen more than talk. When you acknowledge and take responsibility for your mistake, you strengthen the bonds of trust necessary in building and deepening a relationship.

To be recognized as a leader you must have integrity. Embarrassing as it can be, apologies made – or not made – reveal the person and leader you are. Take the time to acknowledge the error, whether big or small, and give the situation and person the right apology.


Fight The Fear Factor

The past two weeks my blogs have centered on you getting in front of an audience. As a leader, this will be necessary to get your face and your program out there. Yet many school librarians shy away from doing this other than with the smallest possible group. They know the value but find a host of reasons not to step into the limelight. The most obvious reason is fear.

Fear holds us back, and we can’t afford to let that happen.

Public speaking is a fear more common than death. Also known as “stage fright,” it is one of the most common fears. The phrase refers to performers, but it is, in essence, what we are all doing when we step in front of a group. Actors get past it or they wouldn’t have careers. You need to do the same because if you hide your light under a bucket, you will not be seen. If you are not seen, you will not be valued. And if you are not valued, you and your position are likely to be eliminated.

Terri Klass has sound advice on How to Stop Fear from Paralyzing Your Leadership. In presenting her five recommendations, she notes this fear can pop up at any point of your career, especially as the audiences get larger or feel more important. Each time you step onto a larger stage, there is the chance it might emerge. With these steps in mind, hopefully, you will be able to conquer it when it does.

  1. Name the Fear – Klass encourages you to identify the physical responses you are having. Can you recognize what is causing it? Notice and name your reactions (rapid heart, sweaty palms), and what they go with (not being sure you have the answer, wondering if anyone will listen to you, etc.) Recognizing that this is fear “talking” is an important first step.
  2. Share the Fear with a Trusted Advisor – Talking out the fear puts it into perspective. A fellow librarian or a friend (or both) makes a good listening ear. As you speak about the fear you just named, you are better able to see how inaccurate your fears are. If you don’t have someone to share it with, talk to yourself. Out loud. It’s hearing it that makes you aware of how much of the scenario you imagined is improbable and just some chemical reactions in your body.
  3. Try on a New Perspective – Klass has an imaginative idea here – think of someone who inspires you, and imagine them guiding you through this fear. How would they approach this situation? What attitude would they present? What would they say to you to encourage you? Can’t think of a person – Klass suggests you think of an animal. Imagine embodying the power of a wolf, the majesty of lion. It’s the perspective change that will help you manage the fear.
  4. Give It a Meaningful Good-bye – Look that fear in the eye and let it know you are done with it. Klass suggests writing down your good-bye and putting it away somewhere or speaking it into a mirror. Rather than putting away that fear, you can also burn it. There is a kind of satisfaction in seeing it go up in smoke. Gone forever.
  5. Commit to the New and Inspiring Leader – What are you going to do going forward? How do you want to be? Look at the presentation you made after having conquered your fear. How did it go? Remind yourself of this the next time you move onto a larger stage. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend who is beginning to shine more brightly.

I can remember reading Frank Herbert’s Dune shortly after it was published. A line from it has stuck with me forever, “Fear is the little death…. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” Each time we step out of our comfort zones, fear will be waiting. Don’t let it keep you from being the leader you were meant to be.

Dress for Success

Last week I blogged on Leading a Great Meeting. Giving a successful presentation can be part of this. As you continue your leadership journey, it is likely you will give more presentations and each one puts your leadership on display.

At first, your audience is the people you work with, whether it’s a lesson you are delivering, speaking to grade, or working with subject level teachers. Over time, your audience will grow, and you won’t know everyone in attendance. Beyond the 5 “P’s” from last week’s blog (to ensure the content, structure, and format will be powerful), you need to look professional. Like it or not, as soon as we step up to make the presentation, the audience will judge us.

Participants make assessments about our knowledge even before we speak. How can we have our audience see us in the best possible light? Although it may sound superficial, dress makes a statement that sets the tone for how we and our message are perceived.

If this is something you’re unsure about, Nick Morgan offers these five tips in What Should a Speaker Wear in 2023?:

  1. Dress slightly better than the audience – If you have ever attended a conference, you may have observed the vendor representatives dress better than attendees. They are making a sales pitch and are dressing to show competence. So are you when you make a presentation.
  2. Dress to fulfill your brand – This is a bit tricky, and you may not want to concern yourself about this tip. The last thing you want to look like is the stereotypical librarian. Think about your audience, what they might expect, and what might make the strongest impression. For example, if your expertise is around building advocates, an appropriate pin might work.
  3. Dress to feel wonderful – Wearing a great outfit changes how we feel and, by extension, how we present ourselves. Select clothes that are not only appropriate but that make you feel terrific and you will send a more upbeat and approachable vibe. Remember to be aware of your surroundings. If you are presenting on a large platform, Stone cautions you to consider whether the lights might make an article of clothing more transparent.
  4. Dress to look good against the backdrop –If possible, find out in advance what you will be standing in front of. If it’s a black background, you don’t want to be wearing black. And if you’re working in front of a green screen for some reason… remember not to wear green! Also remember, many presentations are recorded. When people are watching that later, you want them to be able to see you.
  5. Dress for the moment – After so many Zoom meetings where everyone became more casual in their dress, Stone believes there will be a move toward elegance. Whether or not that prediction is correct, this is a great time to wear a presentation piece of jewelry if you are a woman (not distracting but noticeable) or a bold tie if you are a man. Enjoy the chance to stand out.

My own recommendation is to take this in the spirit of fun. You want to be bringing new possibilities to the audience. If you choose your presentation wardrobe as an exciting part or to reflect you, your joy in the moment will be communicated. Making presentations can be out of your comfort zone. Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and empowered can be a great first step when taking this leadership move.

Leading a Great Meeting

Did the title confuse you? Are you thinking, “Why do I need to know this? I don’t lead meetings. I go to them?” That might seem true, but you may be leading more meetings than you are aware of. Or are you thinking, “There’s no such thing as a great meeting?” That, sadly, is true all too often, but you can set a different tone.

The first thing to keep in mind is not every meeting is called a “meeting.” Do you have a training session for library volunteers? Perhaps you do a 10-minute talk for a grade level when they come into your library or a subject area review. In many aspects, these are meetings and how your deliver them is important. The more focused you are, the more impact you will have, and the more you will be seen as a leader in your community.

Even if you don’t do any of the above, you attend meetings. Are you aware that there’s a way of leading from the middle? I do it all the time. It is also a great way to get your feet wet as a leader on a larger stage.

Lolly Daskal proposes 5 “P’s” in explaining How to Lead More Effective Meetings and Get Better Results. When you are leading from the middle, these P’s will help you recognize why a meeting goes well or poorly. You can also use them to quietly steer that meeting in a more productive direction.

Here are the 5 P’s to keep in mind:

Purpose – What’s the agenda? How many faculty meetings have you attended where the agenda is “This is our time for a faculty meeting”? Remember Purpose = Mission. In other words, it is what drives what is to happen. Everyone should know this in advance. If you are leading the faculty meeting from the middle, restate what seems to be the purpose. Be succinct. Ask it as a clarifying question.

When actually leading a meeting, be sure to inform all attendees of the purpose and do your best to send the agenda well in advance. Ask for any additions. When the meeting starts everyone will be prepared, but you should also restate the purpose as you begin.

Preparation –When leading from the middle, take time to review the agenda in advance . If one isn’t sent, try to anticipate the topics most likely to be raised. What do you have to contribute? Do remember that at most faculty meetings, the dominating purpose of attendees is to get out fast, so be succinct and don’t talk too often.

You would never be unprepared for a meeting you lead, but knowing the content of what you want to present is not enough. Think of why it is important for those coming. What should they do as a result? Also, where might you expect pushback? If so, how will you manage it? Knowing how people feel about meetings, consider Daskal’s question, “Is this meeting necessary?” You might be able to handle it another way.

People – Who is coming? Are they the ones who should be there? Obviously, in a faculty meeting, the principal wants everyone there, but is that why people tune out during parts (or all) of it?

Knowing who to invite is particularly important if you are setting up a library advisory board. In this climate, having one is an important source of strength and builds advocates. You want a broad cross-section but not an unwieldy board. Community members, business owners, parents, teachers, and students are all potential members, but which ones will best serve your purpose?

Process – Daskal advises thinking of the “specifics of how things will get done.” In the faculty meeting you are attending, does the principal make clear what is to follow as a result of the meeting? Are there any tasks to get done? Is there a date when they are do? When appropriate, ask for clarity to help you and the rest of the faculty.

When you are leading, follow Daskal’s advice about keeping track of what is discussed. Send it to all attendees afterwards. Be clear who has taken on what task. Where will they report on it? If you are using Google Docs or some other format, be sure all attendees know how to access and use the technology. Not everyone does.

Progress – All too often, there is no connection from one faculty meeting to the next. If there were any accomplishments or changes, they are not presented. Whatever the original purpose, if there was one has been totally lost. Completion needs celebration.

For your meetings, find ways to celebrate and acknowledge what was achieved. Give credit to participants – and don’t take credit for yourself. Your work will be recognized by others, and those who get credit will be willing to work with you in the future.

Although not a “P,” Daskal says in conclusion, “Lead from Within.”  I completely agree. Trust yourself and your knowledge.