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Time was, Andrew Ross Sorkin looked up to the CEOs of Wall Street and the titans of the business world. Respected the names they’d made for themselves. Admired the things they’d built with their own two hands. In them, he saw father figures, in him, they saw a son. In each other, they found someone to play catch with in the backyard.
But no son stays at the father’s foot, staring adoringly upward, forever. And, in his adolescence as adopted son-reporter, ARS cast a more skeptical eye at his father figures. He rebelled a bit. And in the last year or so, he found himself questioning how much of what these men said was genuine, and how much was lip service. He tried to shake the feeling that, for example, Jamie Dimon was simply telling the public what he wanted to hear when the JP Morgan chief apologized for WhaleGate, but it was an epic struggle. Was John Mack telling the truth when he said he was sorry for what happened to shareholders? Did Nasdaq chief executive Robert Greifeld really believe he “owed the industry an apology” over the whole Facebook debacle? Was Bob Diamond truly the most “sorry, disappointed, and angry” about the revelations that Barclays had engaged in Libor rigging, or was he just sorry it cost him his job? Instead of an apology, did he really wanted to issue a simple “HMD” and be done with it? Sorkin was starting to suspect with sadness that it was the latter.
Of course, Wall Street titans aren’t the only ones apologizing these days. And so it was, some weeks ago, that ARS stood transfixed on the Times newsroom, watching all 78 hours of Chris Christie’s Bridgegate apology. It sounded so familiar, if somewhat coarser. The accent may have been different, but, ARS realized, the content was the same. And that’s when the damn broke. The fear, anger and disappointment that he’d held back for so long, through a financial crisis, through the Libor fiasco, through the Whale, washed over him and left him a changed man. A furious man. A man who had a right mind to shout, “Y’all can stuff your sorries in a sack!”
In last night’s column, he did just that.
Target’s chief executive, Gregg W. Steinhafel, apologized for a security breach that affected as many as 110 million customers. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase apologized, multiple times, for his firm’s regulatory lapses. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey apologized for controversial bridge lane closings and traffic jams. The venture capitalist Tom Perkins apologized after comparing the treatment of America’s wealthiest to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. LeBron James apologized for using the word “retarded,” calling it a “bad habit.” The age of the apology is clearly upon us — and it is not just about being polite. It has become de rigueur, an almost reflexive response among leaders to a mistake or, worse, a true crisis. The art of the apology has become a carefully choreographed dance: Say you are sorry, show vulnerability, tell everyone you are “taking responsibility” and then end with, “I hope to put this behind me.” If you’re questioning the sincerity of this apology movement, there’s good reason. Dov Seidman, a careful observer of societal trends and the founder of LRN, a firm that advises companies on their cultures and how they can translate them into better performance, has been tracking the apology trend for many years. He has become so troubled — and offended — by the ease with which apologies seem to roll off the tongues of our leaders that he called for an “apology cease-fire” in front of several dozen chief executives and politicians at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland…
Beginning on Tuesday, Mr. Seidman and I are starting “Apology Watch” on the DealBook website (nytimes.com/dealbook) and on Twitter using the hashtag #ApologyWatch. We hope readers will participate by helping us track new apologies and, more important, follow up on what companies, institutions and individuals have done post-apology Mr. Seidman has written a thought-provoking essay that explains the apology epidemic and lays out a set of measurements for how apologies should be held to account, which you can find on the DealBook site. You can tweet Mr. Seidman at @DovSeidman Public apologies demand a corresponding public engagement, and I hope that this column and subsequent ones will be a catalyst for a healthy, vigorous and insightful debate. Just don’t say anything you’ll have to apologize for later.
Consider yourselves warned!
Too Many Sorry Excuses for Apology [Dealbook]