Four Ingredients for a Winning Apology

We don’t usually consider an apology as a form of winning.  An apology is deemed to be a sign of losing, an indication that we were wrong in some regard and we are conceding. Yes, an apology is usually an admission that we’ve failed to achieve a particular expectation.  The perception of most people is that an apology is an admission of guilt, error, or failure. But what if we saw it differently? What if we used the apology as a means to win?

How you offer an apology can make a difference in:

  • Restoring trust in a relationship
  • Correcting a customer service issue
  • Helping people to be open to alternatives

An apology can be used to create a winning result.

How An Apology Can Lead To Failure

Here is an example of how an apology failed to bring about a positive result. My wife and I were having dinner at an upscale restaurant, and she ordered a bowl of soup that has, in the past, always been a favorite and a safe bet because of a specific allergy. She took one bite, placed the spoon back on the plate, gave me a look of concern, and promptly had a visible reaction to an ingredient. It wasn’t critical, but it was disconcerting. I asked to speak to the manager. He came, pulled up a chair, and listened as I explained our concern about her reaction and identified the specific ingredient that would cause the problem.  I asked if that spice happened to be in the soup.

He politely said: “I’m sorry that your wife has an allergy. We pride ourselves on using only the best ingredients and would not use what you described in our soup. I can see that she is uncomfortable and I’m sorry. I hope your visit with us next time is more to your liking.”

He smiled, stood up, and walked away.

Now, I hope you noticed a few of things. First, the manager did not speak directly to her. Secondly, he didn’t offer to find something else for her to eat. And finally, he assumed we would return.  He missed his opportunity to restore trust, correct an issue, and offer an alternative.

The waiter took the soup away and returned with a bill that had not been adjusted to reflect the uneaten meal.  They expected us to pay for the entire meal.  We won’t be back.

How To Win With An Apology

It may not repair the missed opportunity, but an apology does provide a bridge to cross the chasm of broken trust and disappointment.  When we say “I’m sorry” to those we’ve let down, we are lifting them up by demonstrating that we value them in our lives.  It is the beginning of winning their hearts and minds.  The win won’t be immediate.  It will take time.  However, the fact that we have taken the time to be genuine and accountable will be a sign of good faith.  It is a step in the right direction.

There are times that we make mistakes.  There should never be a time that we let our pride get in the way of our relationships.

Here are four tips for making your apology meaningful.

  1. Be sincere.  No excuses.
  2. Be specific.  Identify the mistake and acknowledge the inconvenience.
  3. Be quick.  Apologize as soon as you can.
  4. Be accountable.  State what you will do to correct or complete the issue.  Then do it immediately.

Win the relationship, and you will begin to win back your reputation.

Low Employee Engagement Appears to be the Managers Fault

It has been said that people don’t leave companies, they leave people.  When an employee chooses to leave an organization it is more likely because they have reached a level of dissatisfaction in a relationship with their immediate supervisor.  This problem is more pervasive than employers like to admit.  When I asked leaders to tell me how the problem of poor managers affects their workplace culture, they usually responded with a shrug and said that it really wasn’t a problem.  Yes, they had turnover; but the reasons for employees leaving weren’t typically about poor superiors.

Well, the employees may have a different opinion.

One in two employees have left a company to get away from a superior that was overbearing, toxic or simply a bully. Gallup: Business Journal, 7/7/16

A bad manager is bad for business.  Their presence and posturing does not create an environment that welcomes growth or encourages employee engagement. Their behavior generates quite the opposite.

Employees are leaving in order to improve their own well being; or they are staying in the workplace and doing only what they have to do in order to get by (low engagement).  Those who do leave, do not do so hastily.  Most make an effort to communicate better, seek to resolve differences and after many failed attempts to meet unrealistic expectations, they quit. The truth is they quit the relationship long before they quit the job.

The confusing part of the equation is that companies are in the habit of promoting ineffective managers to a leadership role and not holding them accountable for the conflicts that lead to turnover.  But then again, maybe that is because their work objectives are being met and the bad manager is good at appearing to be in control.

Appearances could be the root of the problem.  A bad manager might not be good at working with their employees, but can be very good at appearing to be confident.  They can be well versed in saying the right things, achieve measurable objectives in a timely way and hold their own in a meeting with upper management.  But the perceived confidence is more of a cover up for the inadequacies that truly exist.  We are used to saying you can’t judge a book buy its cover.  That is true in these management situations – you can’t judge a bad manager by their cover.

Yet, when you ask the employees to describe the situation, they express a much different perspective.  They don’t experience a confident leader.  They experience what they describe as an arrogant leader.  It is that arrogance and controlling behavior that becomes the catalyst for the ongoing conflict.

Employee engagement is at critical stages in many companies. It is the managers that set the tone for employee involvement and satisfaction. The difference between a truly confident leader and the one who is arrogant makes all the difference in the workplace culture.

Employees (and leaders) that I have interviewed, tell me that the issue of leadership arrogance is one of their top daily concerns.  The employees want to be engaged and successful.  They want to be more involved.  But the risks of getting on the bad side of a bad superior are too great. Here are some of their perspectives about arrogant leaders:

“Arrogant leaders end up creating workplaces where there is no true ownership or accountability within our team.  Their posturing causes most of us to operate in fear.”

“I have ideas and would like a new challenge, but I’m afraid of what might happen in the event that something does not measure up to the leaders expectation.  If I make a mistake or fail, I become the scapegoat or I’ll be emotionally demoted while the leader aggressively takes over the problem, fixes it and doesn’t involve me in resolving the issue.  I don’t get a chance to learn in the process.”

“Arrogant leaders lead by fear which causes paralysis.”

Here are some the employees perspectives about a confident leader:

“Confident leaders create space for us to go after and own our challenges.”

“When I work under the authority of a confident leader, I end up working passionately and with more enthusiasm because I’ve been given authority to determine the course of my efforts and approach to the work.”


“Confident leaders lead in the realms of possibility and courage, which motivates me to take action and encourages momentum on our team.”

According to the Gallup study, 67% of employees who work with a leader that focuses on their strengths and encourages professional development are more engaged.  They are more confident as employees. It takes a confident leader to create and sustain that kind of environment.

With that in mind, I asked people to describe the qualities or behaviors of a confident leader.  The results of those conversations naturally brought about a comparison to leaders who failed to inspire or engage.

Here is a comparison list for you to consider.  As you notice the difference, I hope you will use this list as a tool to evaluate your own effectiveness as a leader within your organization.

The typical differences between an Arrogant Leader and a Confident Leader

ARROGANT LEADER                                           CONFIDENT LEADER

Its all about their reputation                                       Its all about the relationships

Driven by the protocol (what)                                    Directed by the purpose (why)

Talks “At” others                                                           Talks “with” others

Always right                                                                   Always learning

Demanding and controlling                                       Determined and empowering

Finds fault in others                                                    Finds favor and potential in others

Stingy                                                                             Resourceful

If generous, strings are attached                              Generous within reason

Talks more than listens                                              Listens completely, then talks

Pushes for compliance to their decisions              Collaborates for shared decisions

Brags of their successes                                             Quietly succeeds

Limits opportunity for others                                  Promotes growth

Burns bridges without remorse                               Builds bridges for reconciliation

Self-promoting                                                            Promotes others

Dismissive and harsh with feedback                      Honest in a gracious manner

Aggressive                                                                    Assertive

Prefers co-dependent followers                              Creates culture of independence/interdependence

This article and the comparison list was written by Steven Iwersen, CSP.

ONE WORD Can Help You Get More Done in Less Time!

“If I have one more thing that doesn’t get done on schedule, I’m going to…!”  photo-1457969414820-5fdd86fc0b84

The frustration is mounting for many leaders around the world.  Everyone expects us to sprint to the expected outcomes; but at the same time the varied demands for our time and attention slow us down.  It begins to feel like we can hardly stay focused on what matters.  This is true for every leader, but even more so for those that are leading a small business or are solopreneurs.

You and I know that the inability to stay focused on one thing at a time affects our bottom line.  There are real costs to this issue.  Some studies reflect that the cost of a single brief interruption can eventually equal up to 23 minutes of lost productivity while we work to get back on task.

The personal impact of unfinished business is just as costly.  Consider these:

  • Higher Stress
  • Emotional Frustration
  • Relational Tension
  • Cognitive Disruption  (Thinking about many things at once and unable to finish a thought.)

The answer must be found in the power of an effective Time Management System!  Not really.  I’ve tried many different systems over the years in a desperate attempt to be more effective and productive in my work load.  Time Management strategies, calendars (hard copy and digital), downloaded apps – all are supposed to keep me focused.  Many of these helped to a degree.  But none were completely effective in overcoming the curse of real and imagined distractions.

However, that changed when I started to process my priorities and workload using One Word as my guideline.  This single word brought a clarifying focus to my planning.  It also became my mental mantra that helped me stay focused on the tasks at hand when the distractions were begging for attention.  To my surprise, within two weeks I discovered that:

  • My productivity had greatly improved
  • My personal satisfaction had increased
  • I had achieved more in less time
  • I had more time to pursue other interests.
  • The desk was frequently cleared at the end of the day
  • The status of open projects was current
  • And best of all – I had peace of mind.

— — —

That’s right.  One word made a big difference!  I’m convinced that this single word strategy can help you be intentional about your priorities/planning and protect from impulsiveness in your practice.

WARNING: Do not dismiss this as too simplistic.  It may appear to be way too easy and obvious; but it is, like any other discipline, a behavior that has to be used consistently in order to see the results.  As you already know, old habits are hard to break and new behaviors are difficult in the beginning before they become a natural part of your routine.

So what is that one word?

The word is….




I told you, it looks too simple!  And yet, it has proven to be a significant tool for staying on task.



The word FINISH triggers a core need in our psyche that desires to have things completed.  For example, a check mark next to an item on the To Do List feels good.  It means that we don’t have to keep thinking about it – we can move on.  Moving on implies that we are progressing and more importantly it is deeply satisfying.

Unfinished business doesn’t feel good.  Responsibilities unfinished linger in our minds and clouds our ability to think things through to a conclusion.  That makes it hard to be fully present for the people who deserve our attention.  When we have tasks piling up we agonize over the fact that we don’t have enough time to do everything.  We begin to entertain the mental impression that we are failing. There is no satisfaction and therefore little motivation.

But then, there is that word – FINISH.

It has a uniquely powerful influence in your mind.  When you think or even say the word aloud – it influences your decision making abilities in that single moment. It recalls your previous reasoning in regards to what is important.  In a sense, it gives you a mental splash of cold water in the face and makes it much easier to say no to the distractions.  “Finish.”  That word reminds you that the decision to do this task first was already made and is not open for discussion until this is done.

I’ve personally found that when I’m tempted to stop what I’m working on to check an email or to fiddle with social media, my thoughts filter that distraction and I’m empowered to immediately redirect to the greater priority.

The commitment to finish leads to completion. Completion leads to a personal and professional freedom.  The freedom to entertain other matters without the guilt of knowing that a priority task has been delayed.

FINISH gives you focus!



It is my practice to use the FINISH mindset in three specific methods:  In One Session, In Scheduled Segments and With Structure/Systems.


This is the fastest application of the Finish Mindset and the most challenging because we are conditioned to be multi-taskers.  The methodology is based on an old lesson we were taught in our childhood –  “finish what you start”.  In other words, stay focused.  Whatever you are working on, stick to it until it is done.  This works best with tasks that have a short term focus and a potentially quick outcome.  It will also help you resist the urge to dabble in the distractions.

Look at your most important tasks and determine if you can finish in a single effort.  It could be a 5-10 minute task (responding to an email).  It could be a project requiring an entire morning (research and writing a report).  It may even require of you one or two days to complete (building a fence).  Whatever it is, work at it until you can confidently say it is done.

If you determine that what your needing to work on is not a One Session task (or that you will have interruptions) get strategic and schedule your plan.


The battle most leaders have (especially solopreneurs) is allowing the daily schedule to be determined by whatever pops up or whomever drops in.  That could be real or virtual.  Productivity on essential business building activities takes a big hit when we relinquish our focus, instead of leading the agenda.

We all have major responsibilities that involve much more than simple daily task management.  The workload includes: team members, customer feedback, meetings, travel, reports, analysis, etc.  The more complex it is, the more you’ll need to break the priorities down into manageable segments.  photo-1457883626133-458e5ec26948

HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART – Identify the elements or tasks that can each be accomplished in One Session.  Schedule those sessions into your calendar.  In advance, block times during each week that you will work only on those highest priorities.  Then protect those blocks of time and “finish” what needs to be done during that allotted timeframe.




The best thing you can do to help yourself and your team make the Finish Mindset a natural discipline is to create a structure that compliments your commitments.  Anything you can do to make the recurring or repetitive tasks easier to manage and track, the better you can focus on the more valued responsibilities.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Automate.  Find and use applications or software systems that can take care of daily repetitive essentials.  This could include: email sorting, computer backups, social media posting, research, etc.  Check out  (If Then, Then That)  A great way to manage and track recurring tasks.
  • Calendar.  Sync all your commitments to one calendar.  I make sure that mine is available to my team members and family.
  • Meetings.  I’m just going to say what your people want to say:  A) Fewer meetings.  B)  Make the meetings meaningful.  Less repetitive reporting and more dialogue on ideas of growing the business.  C)  “The shorter the meeting, the greater the focus, the better your results.”
  • Appointments.  Create an easy way for people to connect with you.  There are apps that allow people to choose a day/time that you’ve predetermined your availability.  Examples:  or
  • Sharing Portals.  The more you work with others and need to be connected virtually – the more valuable it is to use cloud based systems for sharing projects.  Check out Google Docs, Hightail, Dropbox, and more.
  • Lifestyle.  Create ways to streamline your life.  As silly as it may sound, you can get more done if you make advance decisions concerning what you will wear or eat any particular day.  Outsource weekly tasks.  But most importantly, practice the Finish Mindset at home.  You will have less clutter.  And your family will notice that you are more present and attentive to them.

Give it a try.  FINISH.

I’m pretty sure that you will be pleasantly surprised with your results.

–  Steven

Five Unique Ways a Manager Can Influence Others

Managers have a tremendous responsibility to influence others.  It is expected from the executive level that your influence will keep projects on target, help to improve productivity, and inspire employees to perform with excellence.

Some managers exercise their influence in a dictatorial approach and get results; but usually short lived and with resentment.  Sadly, their behavior sets a tone for overall work culture decline and employees begin to behave in the same way.  Derek Irvine wrote an excellent article on The Negative Side of Leadership Influence on Company Culture.  He says,  “It doesn’t matter one whit what you say your culture is if everyone –from leadership on down – does not live that culture.”

On the other hand, some managers seem to have a more organic influence, a developmental approach that inspires and encourages people to deliver the results with pleasure and pride.  What is it that makes the difference?  I’ve noticed 5 ways an effective manager influences others.  These may seem a bit unorthodox or realistically obvious to you.  Whatever your perspective, it could be very beneficial to thoughtfully consider how you are using these influencers to empower others.

Here are Five Unique Ways A Manager Can Influence Others:

  1. The Influence of Your Presence
  2. The Influence of Your Ignorance
  3. The Influence of Your Example
  4. The Influence of Your Words
  5. The Influence of Your Silence

I’m going to offer a blog posting on each one over the next few days.  I’d like to invite you to explore how you are using each of these to be a more natural influencer.

– Steven Iwersen

Leading Change and Sustaining Your Corporate Culture

I am a change fanatic.  Give me a choice between status quo or the opportunity to change, and I will jump for the new possibilities.  Some people accuse me of being addicted to change.  They say: “If Steven can’t change something during the day, he will drive home at lunch just to change his socks!”  That is not true.  I bring an extra pair of socks to work, just in case.

The environment of change can fuel our creativity; but there are some changes that we should purposely avoid.  Those are the changes that have the potential to destroy the culture of our organization.  Unless of course the culture is toxic and needs to change.

Change is always corporate in its nature.  It consistently influences the network of relationships.  Person to person.  Business to business.  Employer to employee. Employee to customer.  Change is persistently a group phenomenon.  It is not an individual experience only.

I recently had to make an important decision for my company.  The potential change would include a heavy investment of time and money.  Those are two valuable resources that I’m not willing to part with easily.  However, the impact it would have for my team was what I needed to consider most.  The change would introduce new and more work for all of us.  It could also streamline our workload in the long term.  More importantly I needed to know how it might influence the relationships – the culture of our organization.

This vital to leadership success in any business.  Many leaders fail because they focus only on building the brand, while forgetting that the culture is what sustains the brand.  And the culture is inspired and shaped by the people you lead.

John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, was recently asked why culture is so important:

 “Culture is everything when it comes to responsible, long-term business success. Culture is what exists before any given leader shows up, and it’s what exists after any given leader moves on. Culture is in the DNA of an organization. It is not something that a leader necessarily goes out and creates. A leader’s job is to discover, communicate and reinforce culture. If you don’t get culture right, nothing else matters.”

SmartBlog on Leadership, July 25, 2012

 Improving systems alone doesn’t make us better if the change doesn’t enhance the quality of the team.  Each change creates a shift in our corporate culture.  Will those changes be beneficial?  To determine the benefits get clear on these two important factors:

  1. What is the purpose of our organization and team?
  2. Will the proposed change enhance or destroy that shared purpose?

The Basics of Motivation

Motivation is involved in every aspect of our lives.  It secretly works behind the scenes providing a motive for the majority of our actions and opinions.  Motivation can be positive or negative.  It can have lasting influence or it will have a short life-span.  The right motivation will make your day fantastic and productive.

Which of these words motivates you more effectively than any other form of motivation?

FEAR            GUILT              INCENTIVES               PERSONAL GROWTH

Now, identify which of those words describes the form of motivation you use most often when attempting to engage other people in the workplace.

The first three are external motivators.  The fourth, Personal Development, is an internal motivator.  Take a close look at how each of these can work.



Nothing improves a person’s driving skills like the sudden discovery that their license has expired or the realization that an officer is driving right behind them.


A church bulletin announced:  “The Magic of Lassie – a film for the whole family.  Sunday at 5 p.m.  Free puppies will be given to all children not accompanied by parents.”


The practice of getting others to do what you want by promising a reward.  It is a short lived motivation because the incentives become common place and creates complacency; unless of course, the prize is bigger than before.



Regardless of the external motivations, most of us will experience a greater sense of accomplishment and success when we discover and utilize the internal motivations.  Nothing produces results like the internal need for personal growth.  It is the inner desire that says, “I want to become a respected person.  I can do better than I am right now.”  People are most happy and confident when they believe that they are growing and contributing to a greater purpose.


Zig Ziglar commented:

“Motivation gets you going, but habit gets you there.  Make motivation a habit and you will get there more quickly and have more fun in the process.”


You can accomplish more than you thought you could if you will exchange the habits of fear, guilt and external incentives for the person joy of becoming a positive, confident person.  What new habit could you start today that would get you motivated?


Why Do Employees Resist Change?

I don’t know of any industry that is not working through transitions of change.  If you’re a leader in your organization you are leading change.  And you may have noticed that some employees are not comfortable with the change.  A few are openly resistant.  Most are subtly hesitant and cautiously embracing the changes.

In my work with leaders around the country I’ve discovered that two core reasons exist for employee resistance to change:

  1. Leaders are not clear on the purpose and not communicating why the change is important.
  2. Leaders are chasing the latest fads or cool ideas in a personal attempt to be successful.

One of my customers is a man that is constantly upsetting his staff because he does everything impulsively.  He pretends to be focused and disciplined; but the quick shifts in direction have created a general disgust for the “flavor of the month” distractions and his employees are less devoted to giving their best efforts or leaving the company all together.

It is better to be intentional than to be impulsive.

Intentionality builds confidence, impulsivity destroys trust.

Look at the changes you are responsible to accomplish and evaluate your leadership in terms of intentional vs. impulsive behaviors.  Can your employees define the reasons why a change is important?  What would they say about yourcommunication, implementation and follow through?

It could be that your team members are just waiting for you to clarify the purpose and to create some stability during the transitions.

What You and Olympic Athletes Have In Common

The Olympic athletes inspire us with their remarkable accomplishments. They push themselves to the very edge of their talents and training, hoping to be on the winners podium.  And what inspires me most is not that the winners are better than the rest, but that every athlete won the right to be in the International competition because of one common denominator.  And this common factor is evident among winners and successful people in every arena of life.  However, it is not always obvious to the spectators.

When I ask people to describe the reasons for a person’s success, the words that are most often mentioned are:  integrity, consistency, self disciplined, character, and hard worker.  All are good qualities and important; but one word is often missing from the list.  That word is – commitment.

Commitment is the hidden element of success that comes disguised in the more obvious of admirable character qualities.

When you observe a person that exemplifies integrity, they are that way because of a commitment to do the right thing.  A consistent person has made a commitment to be dependable and trustworthy.  Self discipline is the evidence of prior commitments.  This is the nature of those we call winners.  This is the common denominator among those who succeed.

The athletes we admire and celebrate have followed through on their personal commitments.  The leaders we trust are those who keep their commitments.  The co-workers you respect are most likely the ones who are committed to performing at the leading edge of their talents and training.
What commitments are you making today that will make you a winner?  Do you have any commitments that need to be strengthened? You can unlock your potential for success in every area of your life when you take your commitments seriously.


Steven Iwersen is a Leadership Development Expert and Keynote Speaker.

Burning Bridges

Burning bridges use to be a military strategy employed by commanders that wanted to make a commitment to a particular course of action by making a retreat impossible.

Today, employees committed to the strategy of advancing the company’s overall goals see “Burning Bridges” as a betrayal of trust.

Here are some sure fire ways of burning bridges and causing your best people to retreat:

— Pretending to be in agreement, then doing your own thing with no regard to the other person’s feelings.

—  Failing to be up front or forthcoming; then letting others involved discover your true intentions after the fact.

—  Asking for opinions when you have already made up your mind.

—  Using people for your benefit until you’ve gotten what you want or they stop enabling you.

You’re not a demolition expert, you are a manager!   Start building up your people and you’ll find that bridges built are better than smoldering alone in your office.


Don’t Hesitate To Lead

Your employees want a leader who knows where to go and how to get there.  They need a manager that can demonstrate a balance between the extremes of being too pushy and being a pushover!  They will not tolerate a demanding approach.  And if you hesitate to show some leadership, there will be some employees who will seize the opportunity to undermine your position.

Three Ways to Demonstrate Your Leadership:

1.  Set the Agenda and Communicate the Objectives.

If you are a new manager it is better to do this sooner than later.  Leaders who wait to lead, thinking it is better to go slowly and build a trusting rapport, often discover that their opportunity to take the lead has been forfeited and someone else is calling the shots.  Even more tragic is learning that people were open and willing to explore new ideas in the first few months of your leadership, but have now settled back into old routines.

2.  Involve Everyone in Developing The Action Plan (Strategy)

Ask them for their ideas and include them in the problem solving.  When we genuinely ask for their opinions and find ways to work those ideas into the process, we create a climate of collaboration.

3.  Establish Your Credibility

The most significant act of leadership is to resource your employees with what they need.  Make sure they have the right tools, supplies, and the time to be successful.  Also make sure that you roll up your sleeves and actually help them.