Dealing With Disappointment

                 Let’s face it.  Sometimes we do everything right, and we still don’t end up with the right results.  We can put everything in place for success, but it may just not go our way.  In that case there may be frustration, sadness and definitely disappointment felt by you as a leader and by your team members.  As leaders, we always want our teams to strive for the goal with the expectation of excellence. We push ourselves and our partners with the idea that we will accomplish our mission because we are working hard and doing the ‘right’ things.  What if that just isn’t enough?  What if personal issues or politics get in the way? It is a part of life that not everything is perfect; so how do we handle it?

                There are many psychologists, counselors and spiritual advisors who are ready to answer this question.  Honestly, they are much better equipped to deal with the emotional side of this issue.  Since I am more process-oriented, let’s approach this question from that angle.  With every single project or goal, there should be a final review by the team.  This may seem like overkill or an unnecessary step.  However, it is essentially the first step of planning for the next project.  The team should always come together – success or failure – to look again at the entire process. 

                There are usually five steps to goal accomplishment – planning, analysis, design, implementation (action) and support (long-term viability).  Each one is critical to mission success.  During the final review, the team needs to ask What went right? and What went wrong? during each phase.  This is a time for leaders to be brutally honest.  Allow the team to delve into questions like – Was the communication sufficient? Were there issues getting supplies?  What were the chokepoints or bottlenecks along the way?  Was support lacking or strong from upper management?  This should be an opportunity for the team to let loose on the positives and negatives. 

                The review session is not complete, however, without going over every single positive and negative, asking How can we repeat this (for positives)? and How can we prevent this next time (for negatives)? This is the most important part!  Making a list of good and bad stuff is all well and good, but it does nothing for you as a leader or as an organization unless there are actions taken as a result of that feedback.  So how does all of this help with the initial issue of disappointment?  Disappointment is an emotion but the review process I just described helps take emotion out of the picture for a moment.  If we as leaders can remove emotion from the equation, it can help everyone regain the right focus because it is a process, not a personal endeavor.  The failure is on the project, not on the people.  Along the way of the review, there may be a negative that just could not have been predicted or foreseen.  It can be easier for the team to see that the failure of the project was not their fault if approached in this way.  Ease the emotion by approaching the subject through the objective – it’s one idea.

           Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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  1. #1 by Ikonographi on October 22, 2012 - 12:50 pm

    Great subject…

    I think as leaders we face two distinct obstacles with less than expected results…one; managing the expectations of the team…two; managin oru own expectations. I personally think that the largest portion of leadership-greater perhaps than even competency; is the ability to “carry on” in the mdist of diminshing returns. Sometimes, the only difference between “winning” and “losing” is staying focused even in the midst of intermitent failure…

    Feelings of frustration…lack of control…loss of gravitas-these all translate to lack of confidence and cohesion within a team.

    • #2 by The Professional Development Team on October 22, 2012 - 1:19 pm

      I agree with you to a point. I submit not all frustration or lack of control is due to issues within a leader’s pervue. If Pakistan decides to bomb India which causes a ship to respond and therefore cancels a port call for a tired crew, I believe that is not something the leader had the ability to stop. However, I agree with your point about managing expectations on both sides – for the team and for the leader. In my suggested scenario, leaders have to take the time to still go through their process review, but instead look for ways to give people some needed rest on board. The idea is still to deflect some of the emotion away from the Navy or from the ship, but to the rising tensions abroad. I guess the bottom line is refocusing the team is critical and that is what leaders need to accomplish in whatever manner is fitting.

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