Bucknell BravmanIntegrity is often revealed by what we do when no one is looking.

John C. Bravman is in his third year as president of Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, PA. On January 25, 2013, he issued a statement acknowledging that Bucknell admissions officials deliberately miscalculated the SAT scores of a number of students from 2006 to 2012.

The result of the errors was that SAT scores for incoming students that Bucknell reported to U.S. News and World Report and various other college rating organizations were one point higher than they actually were.

In his statement, on behalf of the entire university, Bravman offered this apology:

These numerical omissions . . .  violated the trust of every student, faculty member, staff member and Bucknellian they reached. What matters is that important information conveyed on behalf of our University was inaccurate. On behalf of the entire University, I offer my sincerest apology to all Bucknellians for these violations of the integrity of Bucknell.

This is an example of an effective institutional apology.  It is doubly effective because it was voluntary. The inappropriate activity occurred during the previous administration. The distortion was minor.  President Bravman could have decided to fix the issue going forward but let the matter go unacknowledged.

President Bravman knew that his statement would create much controversy and embarrassment for the university.

One clear downside for the university would be a recalculation of Bucknell’s rankings, an outcome that could conceivably have significant negative implications in terms of admissions and donations for many years. So the stakes were at once academic and more than academic.

Integrity First

But here’s the thing about apology. Its effects are unpredictable. That’s one reason why so many people find apology so difficult. Apology requires offenders to make themselves vulnerable. That’s hard enough without also adding unpredictability.  Few institutions take such chances unless they are forced to.

So who could have anticipated what happened next?

A few days after Bucknell’s statement, President Bravman received a phone call from a donor pledging $10 million as a show of support to the university in challenging times.  This pledge was the third largest donation in the university’s history.  “This extraordinary expression of support was unexpected in this situation, to say the least,” Bravman said.

Announcing the Donation

The donor has asked to remain anonymous and the reasons for the timing of the donation may never be known for sure.

But I believe it’s more than likely that the president’s demonstration of integrity at least in part inspired the donation, that President Bravman’s courageous apology was a predicate for the donation. The money will go to fund scholarships to the university.

So kudos to President Bravman for demonstrating that the unpredictability of apology doesn’t have to be punitive.  Indeed, it can build integrity, add to institutional learning, transform relationships, and, occasionally, inspire a $10 million windfall.

Immediately after the unspeakable horror of the murders of the first graders of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the community of Newton, CT assembled to proclaim its unity, humanity, and faith in the face of such horror.  Participating in the interfaith vigil were representatives of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i traditions.

Also participating was the Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church.


That crossed the line for his superiors in the denomination he represents, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, because its ministers are prohibited from participating in services with members of “false” faiths.

So in a lengthy statement, Morris dissected his motives and offered a strained technical apology:


To those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies.”

Worthy of Defense

But the instincts of Rev. Morris were correct and his ministry worthy of defense. His apology defended an unholy doctrine that puts “joint worship” off-limits. It is a doctrine that further divided a community in desperate need of unity. 

Sometimes humans are called to do the right thing even when such action technically violates some rule or doctrine. When that happens, the highest quality humans acknowledge their decision and offer their reasons for public scrutiny. The Rev. Morris actually did this:

“I believed my participation to be, not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy.” 

Then he should have gracefully accepted any discipline that his superiors felt justified under the circumstances. This type of witness has been the basis for every step in human liberation from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Indeed, it is the basis for the impeccable grace of Jesus Christ that his denomination claims it exclusively represents.

Fragile Doctrine

Is the doctrine of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod really so fragile that it is placed in mortal jeopardy by mere proximity to joint worship?Nevertheless, religious denominations have a right to their doctrines, even one that defines the practices of the Jews and Catholics of Newton as “false” religions and labels its Presbyterians and Muslims “pagans.” And religious bodies have a right to discipline their own members.

The rest of us have a right to challenge the legitimacy of such doctrines in the context of their own stated values.

The ministry of Rev. Morris, the souls of those he represents, and his own immortal soul would have been better served had he followed his decsion to participate in the interfaith vigil in Newton, CT with confident silence.  This is one case where apology makes matters worse.


On February 12, 2013, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison,  reversed course and apologized himself. He admitted his decision to force an apology from Rev. Morrris was ill-advised and a betrayal of the church’s own values. The apology is well done and I encourage you to study it.  Such a public about-face is rare from an official. It is a welcome admission that the dictates of strict justice must always be tempered by compassion.

Shirley Hornstein is a piece of work. By her own admission, Hornstein is a chronic liar who has deceived dozens of people.  The details of her transgressions are not important. About five months ago, she was outed, and now Hornstein offers an apology.

Where’s the Apology?

I’m amazed. Hornstein offers a long statement that states a desire to apologize, states an intention to apologize, and despairs of finding the words of apology equal to her sins, but every time she gets close to actually apologizing, she retreats.  It’s not easy reading.  whenever an apology statement is more than two or three sentences, you can be pretty sure it’s really more of an explanation or rationalization.  So it is in this case.

An Intent to Apologize is Not an Apology

There is only one thing to say to someone who says, “I want to apologize to you”?

“That’s great. Go ahead.”

Wanting to apologize has the same impact as wanting to lose weight.  It doesn’t count unless you actually do it.

Nor am I impressed with a statement like, “There are no words to describe how truly sorry I am . . .”  The words exist. You just have to be willing to use them.

Hornstein is guilty of both of these distancing devices.  In fact, her statement is not an apology at all. She has a lot of work to do if she’s serious about forging a new path. I suggest she start with an apology that actually signals her sense of accountability .

I usually give a letter grade to Apologies of the Week, but as Shirley Hornstein has yet to apologize, she rates a big Incomplete.

Thanks to my brother Robert for bringing this matter to my attention.

The world awaits Lance Armstrong’s apology. The counter on the Oprah Winfrey Network is counting down to Thursday night.

Some preliminary thoughts:

Why has Armstrong decided to confess now? 

Is Armstrong ready to apologize unconditionally?

Is Armstrong ready to apologize unconditionally?

Because he could no longer stand living with himself. My view is that Lance Armstrong, as flawed a human as he is, actually has a measure of integrity. Anyone with integrity finds that living a lie is excruciating. I don’t dismiss the tactical considerations he may have for coming clean. But I believe that at some level he decided that the costs for continuing the deception were higher than the costs of confessing.

The cover up is worse than the underlying offense.

This is almost always the case. Marion Jones, who eventually offered a fine apology, went to prison not for doping but for perjury. The number of individuals that Lance Armstrong has apparently wronged in his attempts to perpetrate his dishonesty is legion. Whatever he says to the world, to perfect his apology he will have to personally apologize to dozens of former friends, teammates, staff, journalists, and TV hosts.Armstrong will have to apologize for two classes of offenses. Doping is one. But in my view the more problematic set of offenses is Armstrong’s chronic deception and thuggish behavior to those who attempted to speak truth.  I’m no fan of doping, but I think most people can understand the incentives and forgive the conduct. The blatant dishonesty and threats cannot be so easily squared with any sense of a fundamentally moral human being.

Apology means giving up the argument with history.

Armstrong’s critics suggest that the purpose of his apology is to create better conditions for him to compete in athletic events. If so, Armstrong will be frustrated. An offender can’t use apology to further an agenda like that. An effective apology must be unconditional. The victim must have the last word.

An apology informed is good. An apology performed is better.

The true test of Armstrong’s contrition is not in the words he uses, the body language he displays, or even the tears he sheds. It’s based on what he does in the next weeks, months, and years. I will be looking to what Armstrong proposes is appropriate restitution.

An apology allows all parties to move forward.

But not necessarily together. Victims get to decide to what extent, if any, they choose to have a relationship with the offender. Armstrong must be prepared to move forward alone.  And if that’s what happens, at least Armstrong will have himself for company, all too human and imperfect, just like the rest of us. But he will not be alone. He will, perhaps for the first time in decades, recognize himself as someone he deserves to walk with to a future with nothing assured but a little more integrity.


Will Lance Armstrong offer a “limited” confession or go all out?

A Limited Apology Yields Only Limited Redemption.

Lance Armstrong is poised to make a “limited” confession or apology admitting to career-long doping when he is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on January 17, according to media reports.

He should save himself the trouble.   

The more Armstrong attempts to “limit” his responsibility for his difficulties, the more likely whatever is left of himself that he wants to redeem will be lost.

He has two choices. He can continue to deny and fight. Or he can confess and apologize. Putting conditions on an apology is like a cycling champion putting training wheels on a bicycle. Maybe you won’t fall off, but you’ll be laughed out of the race.

An effective apology actually requires that you take the risk of losing control of the situation, of falling off.  Taking the risk is a signal of Armstrong’s sincerity.

Apologizing for offenses committed over a long period of time against multiple victims is difficult. The words never come easy.

I outlined some of the benefits of an effective “unlimited” apology in Part I of this blog.

So, here’s some apology language for Armstrong to consider. The length of the apology is equal to the depth of Armstrong’s offenses. It’s strong medicine for a bad case of personal corruption.

Suggested Apology for Lance Armstrong

I am here to set the record straight and to apologize for so many lies, deceptions, and errors of judgment that I can hardly recognize myself. It is time, past time, that I account for myself.

Let me start with you, Oprah, although my apology to you will just be the first of many I intend to deliver to the many, many individuals I have betrayed.

Today, the deception ends.  I sit here with you today to confirm that I have, in fact, and despite all my denials to the contrary, taken performance-enhancing drugs from the early days of my cycling career.  I have swallowed, injected, and snorted just about every illegal steroid I thought might give me even a moment’s competitive advantage.

I apologize for taking illegal substances. I apologize for lying about it. I regret every lie I told. My intention is to personally apologize to as many reporters, TV hosts, fellow cyclists, sponsors, and sports officials as will allow me to.

A real champion requires a real apology.

I acknowledge that I issued some of these lies while under oath to tell the truth. I will accept the consequences of having done so.I have been fundamentally dishonest for a very long time. I have been arrogant and punitive. Everyone whose lives have been touched by my lies and arrogance has a right to be angry with me.

Oprah, by my taking performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it, I have let you down. I have let my teammates down. I have let my sponsors and foundation down. I have let my country down. And I have let myself down. To you, to everyone who is watching, I apologize for my behavior.

I believe that an apology requires more than words. I cannot talk my way out of a situation I acted my way into. So I recognize that saying I’m deeply sorry—which I am—does not nearly balance the scales. To show my apology is complete, I commit to several actions.

First, I stand ready to accept the consequences, financial, legal and otherwise of my behavior.

Second, I promise to withdraw from the sport of cycling, which I dearly love, or any competitive sport until such time as the proper authorities deem it fit to lift any restrictions.

Third, I promise never again to take illegal substances or performance-enhancing drugs or to lie about it.

Fourth, I will fully cooperate with sports officials to reveal the ways I deceived the tests and undermined the procedures to detect doping.

Fifth, I promise to use whatever energy and resources I have to continue my foundation to improve the lives of as many people as I can. I promise to be a model of sportsmanship, honesty, and transparency.

I don’t ask for anyone’s forgiveness. I realize that forgiveness is not for me to request. Forgiveness is for me to earn. I ask only that I be given a chance to demonstrate by my conduct over the next period that I am truly sorry for my inexcusable behavior and that I can, at some point, once again be counted as a man who is part of the solution, rather than, as I am today, a part of the problem.

How does a man like Lance Armstrong apologize? 

With so many victims, he has to start with a public apology.  It’s a notoriously difficult apology to get right.

Lance Armstrong is scheduled to discuss his situation with Oprah Winfrey, ground central for public confessionals, on January 17. Speculation is that he will finally admit to what he has steadfastly, defiantly, self-righteously aggressively and sometimes under oath denied for a decade: that he is, contrary to his specific denials, guilty of doping on a strategic and massive scale.

Does Armstrong have the courage to apologize?

What kind of apology can he possibly offer?  Assuming he is contrite and wants to come clean, let’s see if we can come up with some language and commitments that can begin to right Armstrong’s considerable offenses.In Part I, it’s useful to consider why an apology is desirable. In Part II, we’ll help Armstrong craft the beginnings of an actual apology. But first, what are the functions of an apology?

It sets the record straight.  We can’t turn the page until we know what’s on the page.

It validates shared values.  By apologizing, Armstrong can reaffirm that he accepts the validity of honesty as well as the shared rules and values of cycling. He can promise not to repeat the offending behavior.

It names the offenses.  Victims need to hear that Armstrong gets it. He needs to be specific and unsparing. I think as ofenses go, the deception is actually worse than the doping. He should focus on the deception.

It recognizes the victims. Armstrong needs to recognize that he has lied to hundreds of TV hosts, reporters, columnists, teammates, and cycling officials. He must commit to apologizing to each of these people one by one. Apologizing just to Oprah on the air won’t cut it.

It allows the relationship to move forward. Right now, Armstrong is banned from cycling.  He needs to corroborate the accusations against him in great detail so that there is no more conflict left to fight about. That’s the only way he and the authorities can create new possibilities. He must have no other agenda than to apologize.

It allows him to be held accountable. Every apology contains within it the answer to the question, How am I to be held accountable? Armstrong may admit that he has committed perjury. He should acknowledge that he is prepared to accept the legal consequences of lying under oath.

It allows him to breathe free. No more secrets. In a world where nothing stays hidden, powerfully acting as if you’ve got nothing to hide is the only sustainable place from which to live and act.

It replaces arrogance with humility.  By acknowledging, naming, and ultimately accepting his mistakes, Armstrong can embrace his humility and make room for his true self, imperfect and all too human, just like everyone else.

It concedes that he is no longer in control. Apology means giving up control of the situation. That’s scary, but giving up control predicated on lies is the surest and most direct path to freedom.  This will be the hardest part for Armstrong. His apology seems to be a tactic for him to retain some control over his fate. But apology doesn’t work like that.

What do you think Lance Armstrong should say?

What are the actual words?  In Part II, I offer some apology language for Armstrong to consider.

Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, is being hammered for an anti-gay remark he made 14 years ago. Hagel has since apologized for that remark. I think it’s a solid apology. But his critics aren’t sure if his apology is sincere or just opportunistic.

Chuck Hagel apologized for anti-gay remarks

Offering an apology is one thing.  But how can you tell if an offender’s apology is sincere?  What if it’s a fraudulent apology?  The simple answer is, you can’t tell.  You can’t look into another person’s soul.

An apology informed is good; an apology performed is better.

The more interesting answer is, sincerity doesn’t matter if the apology is complete in form and follow-through.   My advice is to accept apologies that are reasonably complete. The test of its sincerity will soon be revealed.It’s the action that follows the apology that’s important. An effective apology contains within it the answer to the question, “How am I to be held accountable?”


Effective apology is much more than saying “Sorry.”

The process of apology includes a number of steps that require the offender to consider the consequences of his or her conduct for specific individuals. These steps include engaging the victim in corroborating the factual record of what actually occurred, identifying what the conduct was, accepting responsibility for the conduct, expressing a shared commitment to moral principles that the named conduct violated, offering meaningful restitution, and promising not to do it again. The willingness of an offender to take these steps is the truest test of sincerity.



Is it ever appropriate to issue an apology for something someone else did?  Even if that someone else is your father with whom you share a name?  How about if you were an indirect victim of your father’s offenses?

Sixty-five years ago, the Hollywood Blacklist was born. It would destroy the careers of hundreds of actors and screenwriters with alleged ties to communism. Billy Wilkerson, the owner, publisher and editor of The Hollywood Reporter went out of his way to perpetuate the Blacklist with cruelty and vindictiveness.

The Hollywood Reporter

Now, 50 years after his death, Wilkerson’s son, W.R. Wilkerson III, has written a formal apology on behalf of his father. The full text of the apologyis here. Wilkerson takes time to reconstruct the issues.  The last paragraph, indeed the last sentence, contains the actual apology:

The Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson and son W.R. Wilkerson III

The U.S. government, which had a great hand in this event, could have prevented it from mushrooming. It did nothing. And no one has ever apologized to the victims of this holocaust. So on the eve of this dark 65th anniversary, I feel an apology is necessary. It’s possible, had my father lived long enough, that he would have apologized for creating something that devastated so many careers. On behalf of my family, and particularly my late father, I wish to convey my sincerest apologies and deepest regrets to those who were victimized by this unfortunate incident.What are we to make of this? What does it mean for Wilkerson the son to apologize for Wilkerson the father?

Where’s the Standing?

The reality is that the son has absolutely no standing to apologize for the father. The son wasn’t even born when the conduct in question happened.

What he can do is offer acknowledgement that his father committed grave offenses and that he, the son, wants to publicly recognize those offenses on behalf of the victims.  The impulse driving him is human decency. In an interview on NPR, he talked about why he was apologizing now:

First of all, if I were on the receiving end, Rachel, I would like to hear an apology. I think that that’s just, you know, basic human nature . . . So, I think, you know, hatred and scapegoating and blacklisting is a self-perpetuating cycle until you do something about it. And an apology absolutely levels the playing field.

It would be nice if that were true–that an apology absolutely levels the playing field.  It’s not quite that easy. But it’s a start.

Apple just announced the departure of iOS software chief Scott Forstall, one of Apple’s top executives.  In a company with very little turnover at the top, the news was closely dissected,  Why, exactly, was Forstall forced out?

Was it because he was asked to apologize and he refused?

Former Apple executive Scott Forstall was forced out of Apple partly because he refuxed to apologize for Apple Maps.


Apple had been roundly criticized for rolling out the new iPhone 5 with a home-grown mapping application to replace Google Maps.  This is not the place to go into the technical merits of the two applications. Suffice it to say that millions of loyal Apple users demonstrated that Apple Maps was probably not as good as the mapping application it replaced.


The customers cited chapter and verse about the many problems of Apple Maps.These things don’t happen because of one incident, but we can be pretty sure that Forstall’s decision to withhold an apology loomed very large in the decision. The company quite rightly decided to be accountable and to apologize for rolling out something not quite ready for prime time.  In due course, a statement issued from CEO Tim Cook. This is part of what Cook said:

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

Apple CEO Tim Cook issued the apology for Apple Maps.

Now we learn that Forstall was asked to write the letter  and he refused to apologize. While it was fine for the CEO to take responsibility, as the chief of the iOS team and the leader closest to the decision, it might have been better for the apology to come from Forstall.

Maybe we will learn why Forstall felt an apology was not in order.  Perhaps he thought that Apple Maps didn’t need an apology.Media reports, such as this this one from the Wall Street Journal and this one from CNET, suggest that some within Apple considered Forstall a divisive figure who didn’t fit into the culture at Apple.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that enlightened leaders now accept that accountability and transparency are just good business.  Leaders who refuse to lend their names to even the most general expression of regret–“we are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers”– cannot last long in any progressive organization.

Forstall’s refusal to issue an apologize displays a level of arrogance and demonstrates a certain tone deafness to customer service. Progressive organizations rightly have little tolerance for such leaders, regardless of how talented they may be.

The takeaway: If you are asked to apologize for something, assume that there is something that calls for an apology. Carefully examine your actions. You will almost certainly find it.






Healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes attract personal injury lawyers looking for clients they can represent.

If you watch late night TV, you can see their ads. In small towns, the lawyers frequently take out full-page ads in the local newspaper.

Rockcastle Health and Rehabilitation chose humility instead of defensiveness  in its response to lawyers trolling for clients
Rockcastle Health and Rehabilitation chose humility instead of defensiveness in its response to lawyers trolling for clients

What is a healthcare company to do?  Become defensive, hunker down, and fight the inevitable lawsuits?  Or is there a better way?

Signature HealthCARE, the parent company  of Rockcastle Health and Rehabilitation Center in Brodhead, Kentucky recently faced this problem.

A state badly in need of tort reform, Kentucky has become fertile ground for attorneys mining for lawsuits related to nursing home errors and deficiencies. One law firm in particular, Tampa, Fla.-based Wilkes & McHugh, trolls for clients by taking out full-page, fear-mongering advertisements. Some lawyers took out ads in the local newspaper attacking the nursing home company for its lack of quality and alleged missteps, holding out promises of payoffs, and soliciting families of residents to call.

Justified Response

The parent company would have been justified in responding by taking out its own full-page ad, extolling the quality of the facility and denying any possibility of mistakes.

In fact, it did place a full-page ad.

But the ad, instead of being defensive, was human and vulnerable.  It claimed to do the best it could but that mistakes happen from time to time and when they do, we disclose, we apologize and we fix the mistakes. And far from attracting more lawsuits, the evidence suggests this approach works to deter lawsuits.

Here’s the text of the ad, emphasis mine.


A letter from Rockcastle Health and Rehabilitation to the community of Brodhead

Nobody chooses to work in a nursing home for money, for glory, or for power. We do this because we love it and because we believe that taking care of our elders is some of the most meaningful and important work imaginable.

Recently, someone took out a full page newspaper ad saying some not- very-nice things about us. This is not the first time they done it. In fact, they take out similar ads all around the country and make their money by playing on people’s fears.

We know we aren’t perfect. But we are honest and hardworking, and we are striving to get better. If we do something wrong, we pride ourselves on admitting it and saying “We’re sorry.”

I would personally like to invite you to come visit us and see the changes we’re making at Rockcastle Health and Rehab. If you can’t make it to our facility, we’d love to hear from you on our website at RockcastleHealth.com or via phone. My cell phone number is XXX-XX-XXXX. You may even know someone who works at Rockcastle Health and Rehab. If you do, ask them what we’re all about.

To our residents and their families, we want to say that we love you. If we’ve fallen short of your expectations in any way or done something to upset you, please know that we’re sorry. And please feel free to schedule a time for us to talk. I promise that we will try to make it right.

Taking care of your loved ones is a sacred duty, and we want you to know how seriously we take it.


David Dickerson, Administrator
Rockcastle Health & Rehabilitation Center
371 Main Street
Brodhead, KY 40409
(606) 758-8711


It was a nice touch for the administrator to offer his personal cell phone number.

The ad drew dozens of letters from satisfied residents and family members, many of which the company displays on its web site.

Also on the web site there is an anecdote, which I can’t confirm, that a relative of a satisfied resident works at a local newspaper. When that newspaper received an inquiry from a law firm seeking to place an attack ad, the employee persuaded the publisher to reject the ad on the strength of Rockcastle’s stand.  It’s a great story about reputation management, but knowing publishers the way I do, I’d need some more documentation on this before I vouch for it. Still . . . it could have happened.