Communication Skills: How Leaders Can Regain Trust


Even though you’re a leader, you’re still a human being—which means that from time to time, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s just the way it is.

Now, making a mistake isn’t the end of the world—even for leaders. But because of their egos, many leaders fail to admit they’ve made any mistakes at all. They’re afraid of looking weak or being viewed as fallible. For some people, an apology is akin to an admission of incompetence.

When leaders don’t accept responsibility for their own individual shortcomings as well as when the team doesn’t perform the way it’s supposed to, relationships with those around them are damaged. 

How leaders can regain trust

Direct reports need their leaders to be humble, transparent, and authentic. This is why great leaders understand the currency of the apology—and admit their faults when the situation warrants it. In fact, the ability to apologize is one of the best communication skills leaders can have.

Next time you make a mistake, follow this four-step process to regain the trust of your team.

Step No. 1: Own It

When things don’t work out the way you hoped they would, the first thing you need to do as a leader is acknowledge your own culpability in the situation. It’s all about seeing the mistake or the misjudgment and demonstrating you understand how it impacts the team.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the mistake is. Regardless of how significant it is, people will know that you’ve made it.

At this point, you want to summarize the entire situation as best you can, giving your team the ability to fill in anything you might have missed. If you did miss anything, your team will quickly let you know because the desire to correct someone is irresistible.

Word to the wise: If your team does fill anything in, make a special note of it because it’s obviously something important.

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Step No. 2: Apologize

The second step of the process is simply saying you’re sorry for the mistake you’ve made.

While you’re apologizing, it is important to project sincerity. This is the antithesis of how most leaders are. When you’re genuine and humble, your direct reports will eat it up. When you apologize for your missteps, you’re showing a level of sensitivity that speaks to the fact that you have their best interests at heart, and you’re not afraid of what others might think when you make yourself vulnerable.

Step No. 3: Fix It

Owning your mistakes and apologizing for them is the easy part. Fixing them is a little more involved. But this is a critical part of the process because it proves you’re doing more than just talking.

How do you fix your mistakes? If the situation calls for it, you may want to ask your employees whether they have any ideas. Use Labels™ and say something like: It seems like you have a vision for how we can do this better next time.

Step No. 4: Make Sure It Never Happens Again

Because we’re all human and make mistakes, it’s OK to make a mistake once. It happens.

But it’s not OK to keep making the same mistake over and over again.

So, try to make brand-new mistakes. Every mistake you make should be a new mistake because you’ve learned from previous mistakes.

Are You Ready to Uplevel Your Leadership Communication Skills?

Most leaders are too engrossed with the mission of the organization and too engrossed with their ascension within the organization to apologize.

On the flip side, when you take the time to own your mistakes and demonstrate you know what the lay of the land looks like from your team’s perspective, you become the type of leader whom everyone wants to work for, and your direct reports begin to gravitate toward you.

Now that you understand the importance of apologizing in leadership, it’s time to continue your learning journey. 

When you’re ready to find out more about what you can do to become a more effective leader, check out our free guide: The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide.

Download the Black Swan Group Leadership Guide

Derek Gaunt

About The Author

Derek Gaunt is lecturer, author of Ego, Authority, Failure, and trainer with 29 years of law enforcement experience, 20 of which as a team member, leader and then commander of hostage negotiations teams in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As a member of the Black Swan Group, he is a negotiation trainer and personal coach. His training has helped leaders and their organizations increase their performance by changing the way they think about communicating one person to another.