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Why you need to say sorry more often

Average reading time: 2 minutes 50 seconds

I get to hear the frustrations of many leaders in my line of work. There’s a common theme.

  • Why do I get so many emails?
  • Why do I get asked so many simple and obvious questions?
  • Why can’t people just think for themselves?
  • Why can’t people be more pro-active?
  • Why can’t people just do what I asked of them, to the standard I need?

Sound a little familiar?

But what if we were partly to blame?

What if we were totally to blame?

I was fortunate to hear Ben Zander, Head of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, speak last December and one thing he said really struck a chord with me (seriously, no pun intended there!).

“If you have delegated a task that wasn’t done as you intended, then you should go and apologise to the person you delegated it to.”


That’s a pretty hard-hitting statement. And at the same time it would be quite easy to dismiss it and simply move on.  But let’s deconstruct it…

How much time do we actually give to delegating the small, everyday tasks?

Do we actually stop to think about what needs to be done and what good looks like?

Do we consider who is the best person to do it and how it impacts on the other things they are working on?

Do we pause and actually consider if this thing even needs to be done at all?

Or, do we just play Corporate Whack Attack? It’s the business equivalent of the fair ground game where a series of plastic moles pop their heads out of holes and you have to smack them down as fast as you can with a huge foam mallet.

As fast as tasks arrive on our desk or into our mailbox, we’re batting them off to someone in our team as fast as we possibly can.

A task rapidly and poorly delegated via email usually triggers five or more emails coming back at us with questions.

Our fault. Say sorry.

A task not done to the standard we required because we didn’t make it clear what good looks like results in wasting the time of the person we delegated it to.

Our fault. Say sorry.

A task done incorrectly with negative consequences for others because the person we asked to do it didn’t have the skills or experience.

Our fault. We delegated to the wrong person. Say sorry.

So you see, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we are often to blame when things aren’t done as we wanted.

Back to that game of Whack Attack…

What if we paused for five minutes and let the moles keep on popping their heads out of the holes? Well once our time is up and our money has run out, all the moles simply pop their heads back down. Ok, so it’s not how the game is designed to be played, but the outcome would be the same and we’d be a lot less sweaty.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here.

If we just slowed down and paused instead of instantly delegating tasks by email, we’d get a lot fewer emails back and not waste one of the most valuable assets we all have. Time.

Before delegating anything by email, ask these three questions and edit the message accordingly.

– Is email the best way to communicate this message?

– Would someone new to our business understand this?

– Where is there ambiguity in what I have written? (Because there always will be.)

Wishing you a productive and happy week ahead.



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