Many leaders stuff up, make bad decisions or act before receiving all of the right information. Many leaders have the positional power where uttering the dreaded phrase, "Sorry, I was wrong" is not expected nor required. But Round 5 of the 2017 AFL season provided a great case study in how a leader who makes a terrible mistake can limit the damage with a heartfelt apology and promise to do better.
Heath Shaw of the GWS Giants was in the news for all the wrong reasons this week when an on-field microphone caught him calling an opponent a retard. Shaw was quickly and correctly called to account for using this derogative term by the media and fans.
The surprising development in the following 24 hours was not that Shaw issued an apology, but more the words that he used in apologising.
"I want to apologise for the insensitive comment I made to Tom Papley during (Saturday's) game.
"Yes I am a fiery person who plays with a lot of passion and emotion but that is no excuse for my actions last night.
"I apologise to Tom and anyone else who took offence to my comments, I deeply regret them.
"There is no place for comments of that nature on or off the football ground. It was an offensive remark that I should never have made and for that I apologise."
Some of the key points I liked about this apology:
He didn't use the words "no offense was intended",
He admitted how wrong he was and there was no excuse for his words,
He was clear about what and who he apologised to.
Compare this to Eddie McGuire who famously blamed prescription drugs for affecting his judgement when he referred to a King Kong when speaking about Adam Goodes in 2013. His apology reeked of self-promotion and no real admission he had done anything wrong....I was just mucking around....I meant no offense.
A similar pattern emerged when he made another on-air gaff about wanting to drown fellow AFL journalist Caroline Wilson. "Boys being boys"...."just mucking around"...no offense intended"....."look at my record of supporting women in sport" were all lines trotted out.
McGuire is President of the biggest AFL club in the land and has held major leadership roles with Channel 9 and in various other boards and committees. What example is he setting as a leader by deflecting the blame and redirecting to self-promotion?
McGuire would have done his reputation no harm by accepting the criticism and blame unconditionally, pledging to do further work with Goodes to educate others why his comments were wrong and admitting that if anything good were to come from this, it would be that the general public would understand why Goodes and other Aboriginal people consider such comments offensive.
Heath Shaw made a major blunder. Despite the procession of former players that went in to bat for their comrade, making statements that "microphones should be switched off" and that people should "go easy on these guys that are under so much pressure", Shaw responded with much more humility than McGuire and showed younger players at his club and young supporters everywhere that admitting when you are wrong is a show of strength and leadership
Hopefully this scandal will be a lesson for people everywhere that this kind of language cannot be tolerated in this day and age and they might thing twice before thinking or speaking in this way. Heath Shaw should look to do some work with people with an intellectually disability and become a role model to the next generation in this area. Should he do so, in time, his reputation will be restored if not strengthened. And he won't be compared to McGuire who should have been banished from our airwaves a decade ago.