Original Research

Factors influencing followers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their leaders’ apologies

Claudia Coustas, Gavin Price
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 50 | a2170 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v50i0.2170 | © 2024 Claudia Coustas, Gavin Price | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 December 2023 | Published: 28 June 2024

About the author(s)

Claudia Coustas, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Johannesburg, South Africa
Gavin Price, Department of Academics, Faculty of Leadership, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Johannesburg, South Africa


Orientation: Given the prevalence of apologies, it is crucial to consider how followers perceive the effectiveness of a leader’s apology.

Research purpose: This article conducts an empirical study on the factors that influence followers’ perceptions of their leaders’ apologies, following leaders’ wrongdoing.

Motivation for the study: This article maps the elements of an effective leader’s apology, as well as identifies the situational moderators of such apologies, which can help equip and empower leaders when they need to apologise.

Research approach/design and method: A total of 311 questionnaires, completed by followers from South Africa and around the world, were quantitatively analysed for the study. After conducting an exploratory factor analysis, a path model was developed, and partial least squares structural equation modelling was conducted.

Main findings: The quality of leaders’ apology content, the promptness of the apology, the perception of justice it evokes and the delivery channel all have a significant positive relationship with both the degree to which followers perceive the apology as authentic and the quality of the leader–follower relationship (LFR) after the apology. These relationships are moderated by followers’ perceptions of leader transgression preventability. The LFR quality prior to the transgression moderates the relationship between leader apology content, promptness, fairness and delivery channel on post LFR.

Practical/managerial implications: The study provides guidance on what leaders should include when formulating a quality apology, especially when followers perceive the wrongdoing as preventable. The study cautions against overreliance on LFRs prior to the wrongdoing.

Contribution/value-add: This study aims to fill an existing gap in empirical research on leaders’ apologies.


leader apology; relationship repair strategy; justice; leader-member exchange; accountability; fairness.

JEL Codes

J50: General; M10: General; M12: Personnel Management • Executives; Executive Compensation

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


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