Watching the USA in their second World Cup Soccer match against Portugal caused me to think about what it’s like to rebound from disappointment. Just when it looked like the Americans were going to win and advance to the next round, Portugal made a last-second goal and the game ended in a tie. The American team was… well… disappointed. They can still advance to the next round by beating Germany, but it will be difficult to bounce back.
As a leader, you will either be at your finest or your worst when you have to respond to disappointment. We expect a certain maturity from leaders, and part of that is the ability to deal with disappointment and be resilient. Undoubtedly, every leader will face many disappointments.
The City Council will flip-flop on what seems to be a “no brainer” decision. An employee will miss an important deadline. You will make a dumb mistake. A recruit will take a different job for more money. Your boss will veto the best idea you ever had. A customer will cancel a contract. There is no end to the list of both small and great disappointments. One thing is certain: a leader who cannot bounce back cannot expect to be successful as an innovator or early adopter.
For a leader, it’s not just how you deal personally with disappointment; it’s also how you lead your team to respond. They will take their cues from you. You may feel devastated inside, but you cannot make your team feel as if they have to talk you off the ledge. The leader has to manage his/her emotions. Your team needs to see your passion; but if the team senses a loss of self-control, it can also cause a loss of respect. How should a leader respond to real disappointment within the context of the team?
- Perspective – You may be deeply disappointed, but you must find a way to put it into a positive perspective. Leaders define reality, and that’s never more important than in the aftermath of a loss.
- Appreciation – Regardless of the outcome, there were people on your team that gave their best effort to succeed. Don’t get so caught up in your own grief that you neglect to acknowledge it properly.
- Resolution – Winners never quit, and quitters never win. Period.
- Improvement – Setbacks provide a marvelous opportunity to analyze what could be done better next time. That’s what winners do. While others may blame a host of things or people (including their self), that’s not what real leaders do. Leaders skip the blame game and find the way to improve. That’s the maturity we expect and need from leaders.