Setbacks come in various forms. Your star performer fails to complete a major project on time. A new hot shot product doesn’t sell. Funding for a necessary service doesn’t come through. A colleague betrays a confidence. A Board member undermines your efforts. Somebody else lands the promotion you’ve wanted. These are just some examples of the kinds of setbacks managers and leaders must endure and accept.
Over the years I’ve known a lot of setbacks. In my forthcoming book (hitting Amazon and Kindle at the end of this month) I talk candidly about several at work and at home. Firsthand I’ve seen that dealing with setbacks requires flexibility, resilience, and perspective. It also takes a certain amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy. Yes, you can crumble or quit. Or, you can pick yourself up and keep on going. That’s what I did—every time. You can do it too. My feature article below, an excerpt from my book, gives you the guidance you need. The good news? Setbacks don’t have to bring defeat.
Acknowledge the setback. Name it aloud. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist by sticking your head in the sand or burying yourself in work. Let yourself feel the anger, helplessness, and fear associated with the setback. Write freely about it in a journal. Don’t hold back.
Talk about it. Share the situation with a trusted colleague, partner, or friend in a safe environment. When someone listens with her whole being, some of the burden is lifted from your shoulders. Invite that person to provide insights and possible solutions. Tell her you want to hear about her own experiences with setbacks and how she coped with them.
Avoid blame. Though it’s a natural response, blame doesn’t change the situation. Because it can ruin relationships and deplete your energy, blame often makes things worse. Get honest and determine if you played a role in the setback. Whether you did or didn’t, you may need to forgive someone else.
Look for the higher purpose. What do you know now that you didn’t know before you suffered the setback? Think about how you can use that new knowledge to your personal advantage and the advantage of your company. Who are you being now? Perhaps, as a result of the situation, you need to lead in a different or unique way. While the Divine didn’t give you the problem, a spiritual lesson may abide in it.
Revise your expectations. Setbacks can show you where you expected too much in the first place from a person, a group, a product, a process, or an opportunity. As a leader, your job is to minimize the chances for setbacks to occur at all. Take off your rosy colored glasses and look at everything around you the way it is. Identify your blind spots about favorite employees, an esteemed funder, outdated procedures, or a short time frame. Face reality.
Take responsible action. The best salve for setbacks is action. Refuse to be a victim who sulks in the corner. Review your resources and plan next steps based upon the information you have now. Decide what ought to be done in light of current circumstances and who should be involved. Carefully examine your reasons. Responsible, honorable action is always rewarded. Just don’t expect instant success.
Use humor. Laughter always helps. Even a forced smile can elevate your mood. As endorphins increase in your brain, you are better able to tolerate disappointments and deal with stress. As your anxiety level goes down, your ability to solve problems goes up. Humor removes some of the heaviness associated with setbacks, creating room for hope. Occasionally, give yourself permission to chuckle and joke. If you must, do it in secret.
Savvy managers and leaders regain their equilibrium after encountering setbacks. They look for the individual and organizational benefits to these threatening events. They roll with the punches. While all of this is possible, but I’d never say it’s easy.
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