CEOs and Apologies: Transparency an Emotional Intelligence Indicator

by Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

sorryApologizing as a PMP project manager is difficult for most of us.  Some of us, however, have found ways to overcome this challenge with those closest to us. My wife, for instance, has taught me how to apologize. Because there is a lot at stake in a marriage, an apology is an important part of maintaining our relationships as husbands and wives.  But there are times when difficult situations occur and even our closest loved ones are denied a request for forgiveness.

Conversely, when it comes to apologizing to employees, peers and customers there seems to be a vacuum of contriteness. Have we as a business culture practiced aloofness as a badge of honor? Do we struggle with apologizing to those with whom we work?

Sometimes apologies are not so sincere but rather, obligatory for the sake of the company image. It seemed to be a public relations nightmare recently when Netflix CEO Hastings attempted a national customer-based apology for policy changes.

Emotional Intelligence

Dr. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence scale, transparency, is one component we look for when coaching a leader. The assessment definition for Transparency reads:

Transparency: Leaders who are transparent live their values. Transparency – an authentic openness to others about one’s feelings, beliefs and actions– allows integrity. Such leaders openly admit mistakes or faults, and confront unethical behavior in others rather than turn a blind eye.

This particular component is in a bundle of Self-management scales. The entire bundle of emotional intelligent factors include:

  • Self-control
  • Transparency
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement
  • Initiative
  • Optimism

Managing these components is the premiere accomplishment for the CEO to the emerging manager, for the world leader to the housewife. Transparency becomes the impetus for realizing the need to express and live outwardly our values. Of course, sometimes there is a gigantic gulf between knowing we need to be kind, apologize and be honest and the actualization of these leadership behaviors.

It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one’s heart rather than out of pity. A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize.

Stephen R. Covey

A client recently explained vigorously why he just could not apologize to a subordinate executive. “You see,” he lobbied, “I cannot lose my leadership edge with this guy.” In other words, an apology, which would solve much of the divergent issue at hand, was not an option. In the western business genre, an apology to him, was an admission of weakness; a loss of positional power.

Apology is an interesting word. The dictionary defines the word as:

  • An admission of guilt
  • Request for forgiveness
  • Regret
  • Confession
  • Act of contrition
  • A statement expressing remorse
  • A formal justification
  • A defense

Wow! That list hurts! While I was writing the list there was this feeling of discomfort and uneasiness. For certain personality types (like mine), there is some trepidation to admit wrong. Why? The reasons are complex. Some are:

  • Fear of rejection from the person you have wronged
  • The appearance of weakness
  • Having to redo or repair the relationship
  • Embarrassment
  • Loss of respect

If you found these tips from Rick Forbus, PH.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at

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