"If you believe you poured your heart and soul into your work, then there is not a single reason to apologize." says Sara Leoni. Please Stop Apologizing - An Open Letter from a CEO. By Sara Leoni, CEO at Rafter “Sorry” has become a very popular word in modern conversational vernacular. It’s used in contexts as varied as narrowly missing crashing into someone when passing them in the hallway, all the way to couching why your email response was delayed by a week. There are countless articles and segments in circulation that coach people (women in particular) to stop excessively apologizing as it reduces their credibility professionally. However, if we take stock of who’s using the word, it’s both men and women, though I’d contend that women are winning with regard to sheer volume.
Early in my career, I can say I apologized for my fair share of good work. What I was forced to realize, though, is that when I apologized for solid work, I potentially looked weak to the folks around me. Or maybe it was simply intimidation. But ultimately, apologizing in this context is revealing that you’re not completely confident in the work you’re presenting. No leader wants to think that you didn’t deliver your best work. A lack of confidence comes across as if you’re presenting a mediocre product. If you don’t believe in your work, why should they?
With experience and self-awareness, I managed to reign in my own apologies. I don’t have any tips or tricks on how I did it, other than I became very thoughtful about the work I produced. I spent hours thinking through how each project would be received and how I would respond to questions that might be asked. If I was 100% prepared, I could be 100% confident. In time, it became second nature to trust myself, without those hours of prep. My work was on the level all along, and eventually, my confidence caught up. This was an important part of my journey on the path to becoming the leader I am today. It is critically important to me (and the success of my business) that I pass on this hard-earned enlightenment to the people on my team. I want to work with people that commit to one another and deliver against those commitments. The people I hire push hard, take risks, and break down barriers to get it done. They stay focused, thinking about what’s around the corner, what’s coming next, and planning for inevitable surprises.
If my team is doing all of that and delivering on what I ask of them, then they’re killing it. Why should they feel the need to apologize for that?
To become a strong leader, you’ve got to take ownership, be accountable, and stand up for your work because you believe in it. You don’t need my validation that you rocked it. If you believe you poured your heart and soul into your work, then there is not a single reason to apologize. And even if you’re not confident, don’t show it! If you left it all on the table, then you just did great work. Now be ready to back it up. If you make a mistake, that’s ok too. Really! Because you took a risk. You were thoughtful. Considerate. Ambitious. Confident. Those are the types of people I like to work with. As much as possible, I cultivate my people to be confident (real or projected). That’s when they feel motivated about what they’re doing and deliver the best work. As the CEO of a successful startup in Silicon Valley, there is very little room for apologies. I have to be willing to stand my ground, hold my defensive position, and support my point of view. In spite of myself, sorry still sometimes ends up being a simple go-to word. But nowadays, I most frequently apologize when I feel I’m not living up to the exceptionally high expectations I set for myself. I take great pride in the flawless execution of what needs to be done, from professional undertakings to personal goals. I want to be on strategy. I want to deliver results. And I want to deliver both of these on time. In fact, I want to overdeliver every single time. I suppose, then, that I may not be apologizing to whomever I’m speaking; I may be apologizing to myself. To say it simply: “Failure is not an option.” Unfortunately, things don’t always go your way - especially in a startup where you’re dealing with limited resources and a lot of uncertainty. Listen up, ladies, gentlemen, and even myself. Please stop apologizing for being bold, ambitious, and talented. Be confident, thoughtful, and committed. That’s the path to becoming a strong, positive leader.
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More About the Author Sara Leoni: Sara is CEO at Rafter, a technology company on a mission to improve student success by making higher education more affordable, accessible, and effective for all. She has more than 16 years of management, marketing, and operations experience building strong online brands for both major corporations and startups. Prior to Rafter, Sara held leadership positions at BookRenter, Sharpcast, CafePress, Yahoo! Personals, and E*TRADE. Sara has a B.A. from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.