Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics
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AbstractThe growing importance of public apology makes forgiveness seeking a critical responsibility for ethical leaders. Leaders must offer apologies on behalf of themselves (in their roles as moral people) and on behalf of the organizations they lead (in their roles as moral managers). Morally satisfying apologies adequately acknowledge offenses, express remorse, offer explanations, and make reparations for damages. The apologies of disgraced professional cyclist Lance Armstrong and General Motors CEO Mary Barra demonstrate how incomplete apologies can undermine ethical leadership. Armstrong’s apology did little to atone for his failings as a moral person. In her role as a moral manager, Barra did not fully account for GM’s cover-up of a defective, fatal switch problem or demonstrate enough concern for victims and the public. The shortcomings of these forgiveness-seeking acts demonstrate the importance of providing a complete accounting, matching the depth of the apology to the depth of the wrongdoing, following through on commitments, and carefully choosing the venue for delivering an apology.