If you were to list the top traits of a leader, what would come to mind? Characteristics like courage and charisma and integrity are all common in strong leaders. They speak boldly, cast a clear vision, and inspire others to bring that vision to life. But being a strong leader doesn’t always equate to being a good one. Good leaders take the natural ability they have to rally others and then act carefully for the good those who follow.

Being a good leader requires cultivating traits that make you a good human—someone that people want to be in relationship with. These are often referred to as soft skills. But there’s a secret power to building strong relationships with your staff. Neglecting the human side will make your team weak and your mission suffer. As a small business owner, you can’t afford to lead without humility.

One way I nurture humility on my team is by admitting my faults. Is it easy to admit when stress has turned you into a Hulking Rage Monster? Nope. But it is necessary to be a good leader? You bet. 

Recently, I had the perfect opportunity to practice humility with my team. Pressures from business growth had been building for months. Even though the growth was exciting and exactly what we were striving for, it created lots of new challenges for our team and for me as an owner. Growth is rarely easy. It was stretching me both personally and professionally. After many months of stretching, there was a bit of a snap, and it landed on my team. 

It wasn’t a good leader moment.

But that gave me a chance to demonstrate leadership by practicing humility and offering an apology. The best approach I’ve found is something called the four-part apology, as it covers all the elements of a fractured relationship so that healing and growth are possible. Here are the four steps:

#1 I’m sorry for…

Be sure to name your error and offense, specifically. Vague admissions won’t cut it. I try to name the actions and the words that were offensive so that everyone knows I’m apologizing for. And it alerts the team to errors I may have overlooked.

#2 You must have felt…

Empathy helps here. I always think of how people on the receiving end of my behavior must have felt. It also never hurts to ask for additional insight!

#3 This is why it happened…

Help your team understand what was driving your thinking. Just as you practiced empathy with them, offer them the opportunity to relate to you. 

#4 Here’s what I will do differently so it won’t happen again…

Saying sorry isn’t the same as an apology. Saying sorry is easy; apologizing requires a willingness to change. This is your chance to voice how you plan to grow so that the Hulking Rage Monster isn’t unleashed to smash another day.

Following the four-part apology takes practice and time. It’s worth the result though! Healthy relationships within your team is like rocket fuel: Everyone is moving at full speed with no baggage to slow the progress toward your mission and goals. Good leaders know how to effectively and efficiently empower the team toward success. Leading with humility will keep your team pressing forward, together.