I was reminded recently of something I learned many years ago in an art history class as an undergrad. Our professor explained that in art women were most often depicted as either the Madonna or the whore. Time and time again women were painted as one or the other. Artist rarely exhibit women as something in between.
This dichotomy in art brought to mind all of the extremes that exist in the business world – how so many professionals don’t live in the wide swath of gray but rather hang out on the margins. Leaders are either too forgiving or too punitive. Managers are either too focused on the bottom of line or too worried about being friends with everyone. While the margins are to our detriment, we gravitate to them nonetheless. They are easy places to hang out. Trying to be moderate is hard. It doesn’t come to us naturally. Rather than challenge ourselves to do better – to make more of an impact, we retreat to our corners.
The Jewish holidays are upon us. This time of year is an opportunity for Jewish people to repent for our sins. This got me thinking about apologizing in the business context. Some leaders never say, “I am sorry.” Whereas others take ownership for all of the ills of the world. Both approaches fail. Effective, memorable leaders are able to apologize when the circumstances call for it, but are able to recognize when they are not to blame.
When it comes to apologizing (and to most other important business skills) successful people are tightrope walkers, suspended in the gray space where work that matters happens. It is an extraordinary event to witness, breathtaking and memorable, but rare indeed.