One Minute Apology author offers wisdom somewhere between Dilbert and Maimonides

Odds are, the medieval philosopher Maimonides never fancied himself much of a one-minute manager.

And writer Margret McBride of La Jolla never dreamed that her new corporate-styled book had a decidedly Jewish bent.

“All of my Jewish friends have been saying to me, ‘This is perfect for Rosh Hashanah,'” said the Catholic-reared McBride, author of “The One Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better.”

“I didn’t really know why.”

After fielding an out-of-the-blue e-mail this spring from Los Gatos-based Rabbi Melanie Aron, McBride now knows quite well how her book strikes a Jewish chord — and even sounds like the teachings of the Jewish sage, Maimonides.

“I was stunned myself at how much of what was in our book matched the teachings in the Jewish tradition,” McBride said in a recent telephone interview.

So much so, that the “One Minute Apology” co-author has been invited to address congregants of Aron’s Reform Congregation Shir Hadash. McBride will be speaking tomorrow night at the annual program before Selichot, the Saturday night service before Rosh Hashanah when Jews ask God for forgiveness.

Aron admits that the invitation started as a bit of a “crazy idea.” But she’s confident the book’s business-themed approach will resonate with synagogue members, many of whom hold fast-paced day jobs in the high-tech world of Silicon Valley.

“People are very attuned to reading about management theory and things like that,” said Aron.

Written in bigger-than-normal type and just 128 pages long, the book uses a business parable to lay out the steps to admitting a wrong, apologizing for it and changing behavior for the future.

McBride co-wrote the book with Ken Blanchard, who penned “The One Minute Manager,” a best-selling business guide to setting goals, praising and correcting employees.

“It’s not like you’re learning anything you didn’t learn before,” said McBride. But noting that few business executives have time to read a 400-page book, she said the new apology manual is “told to you in a way that makes it so much easier.”

She calls her technique “simple, but it’s not simplistic.”

In the book, the authors stress that a key component to fessing up to a wrong is “being honest with yourself.”

“Everybody makes mistakes,” said McBride. “The hardest part of a one-minute apology is recognizing, realizing and admitting that I’ve been wrong.”

Aron casually picked the guide off a new-book shelf on a visit a couple of months ago to the Los Gatos public library. Thumbing through the book, the rabbi was amazed at the way it sounded like Maimonides’ laws of tshuvah. Those laws spell out a process beginning with an awareness of sin and acknowledgement of a wrongful act and extend to asking for forgiveness, making restitution and praying for atonement.

The book, she said, “parallels very much what Maimonides says we have to do.”

After taking the book home and reading it, Aron found the author’s e-mail address. On an impulse, she wrote McBride and invited her to bring her corporate message to the synagogue sanctuary.

Every year, “We try to do something that’s going to help people work on the work of the High Holiday season,” Aron said.

While repentance is a message congregants hear each year at this time, “people in real life are very hesitant” about making apologies, Aron observed. “Either they’re still angry [or] if they’re ready, they’re worried they’re going to get in a fight with someone.”

Aron hopes the book’s approach — geared to busy people with little spare time — will provide some useful behavior-changing tools.

“They’re familiar with Dilbert,” she said. “This is real life for them.”

Since receiving the invitation to come to Shir Hadash, McBride has been poring over Jewish texts loaned by a friend and learning more about the High Holy Days and their perspective on atonement.

This is the first time she’s been asked to address a synagogue audience. “To have your book be a way to be part of the High Holy Days, it’s like the biggest honor I could ever fantasize,” she said.

Margret McBride, co-author of “The One Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better” (128 pages, William Morrow, $19.95), will speak at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Congregation Shir Hadash, 16555 Shannon Road, Los Gatos. Information: (408) 358-1751.