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Lessons in Leadership: Managing Disappointment

By Dr Paul E Adams |

"The wounded oyster mends his shell with pearl." Anonymous

Unless you have the powers of the fabled Merlin the Magician of medieval Europe fame, you will suffer many disappointments in business. You can easily become angry and your emotional feathers ruffled when your star employee quits, your best customer is wooed away by your competitor, the bank says no to your loan application, or your pet project fails. Disappointment is a way of life in business. You cannot dodge it, you cannot prevent it, but you can deal with it in a productive and successful manner.

Stubborn people have an advantage when they channel their stubbornness into positive action. They simply refuse to give up, they refuse to be defeated, and they refuse to settle for less, they just keep trying. It took Hershey four attempts to launch Hershey Chocolate. Moreover, Henry Ford was not a winner the first time out of the gate. Thomas Edison had more failures than successes. These winners had the fortitude to stick it out and deal with disappointment as a normal event.

Disappointment and expectation go together. The greater your expectations, the greater will be your disappointment if things do not pan out the way you plan or expect. Leadership demands foresight combined with caution and the understanding that uncontrollable events and individuals can bring about disappointment. The insurance against disappointment ruling your behavior is the comfort of conditioned expectations coupled with a back up strategy, resources, plan of action, or help when needed. A back up takes the edge off the situation.

Disappointment is a cousin of Courage. Courage comes before the action, disappointment follows it. To be courageous is to be prepared, to have faith in your abilities to succeed, to put aside fear and doubt when tackling the difficult, and to have an understanding of what to do if things do not go your way. There are degrees of disappointment as you know, a minor disappointment is tolerable and a feeling that it could have been worse, whereas, a major disappointment requires mental stamina and the determination to continue regardless of the odds.

Disappointment plays a role in failure. A major cause of business failure is quitting too soon. The disappointment did you in! Some individuals who have difficulty in weathering setbacks, or spoiled plans, look to blame others to boost their ego, or quit to ease the emotional pain. Disappointments in life can linger about, undermining your feelings of self worth and killing your ambition. You will find that emotions in business are as important as skills or experience.

When you are coping with reality not being what you hoped, the quickest way out of your situation is to put the experience behind you. Living in the past is reliving the pain and reinforcing it- in time you become bitter and cynical about your talents and your future.

Try these guidelines to lessen the negative emotions the next time your plans go astray or someone you were counting on is just not "there." As I have stressed, not having it your way 100% is life. To expect perfection in any form is denying reality.

When disappointed:

  • Before blaming others or the gods, analyze what went wrong. The causes of failure are as important as the reasons for success. Insanity is sometimes described as repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome, or somehow a miracle will occur.
  • To your employees and business associates, it is OK to admit you are disappointed, but not ok to dwell on it or allow the emotion to cloud your thinking or even the day. Leadership demands wearing a mantle of strength not behaving as an adolescent.
  • Understand that disappointment belongs to yesterday- to hold on to it is to invite future failure.
  • To feel sorry for yourself may at times be emotionally comforting, but it does not belong in business- your employees will not take pity and love you, your customers will not share your feelings of disappointment and shower you with larger orders to make you feel better. Self-pity is a liability that will undermine your leadership.

And before you are disappointed, watch out for unrealistic expectations. It is OK to hope and dream, but to expect miracles will only add to your disappointment. A successful leader is a realist; He or she expects not all will always be well.

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