I experienced a setback in my life last week.
The nature of the setback is, in and of itself, irrelevant. What was important and revealing to me was my knee-jerk reaction, the kind of reaction which did not serve me and, quite honestly, I had thought I was past…
1. I racked my brain to find something I had done to cause the setback (I was intent on laying blame somewhere within myself).
2. I wallowed in a state of fear that this setback, again – the likes of which I had thought I was past – would keep recurring.
3. I allowed myself to feel the discomfort of the setback as pain and guilt.
Yeah, I was more fun than a barrel of monkeys last Tuesday…
Fortunately, by that evening I had realigned with my vision of where I was headed in this journey we lovingly refer to as “life” – I had the picture of it firmly in my mind – and I felt reaffirmed and inspired from within to once again get back on the path to that vision. It’s amazing how much lighter my inner inspiration made me feel – like the weight of the blame, fear and guilt had all been lifted!
I vowed to learn from the experience and not take the road of emotional wreckage the next time I experience a setback. (And they can’t really be denied in life, right? Sometimes they occur and simply cannot be explained.)
So, here’s the important question for all of us as leaders: when we experience a setback in our businesses what is our natural reaction to it – and is it the healthiest reaction for our company?
Are we the type of leader that, when our company, project or team experiences a setback:
- automatically wants to place blame on someone, sometimes leading to rash decisions about that person’s career
- makes poor, often risk-averse business decisions in regard to moving forward from a place of fear rather than strength and commitment
- leaves a trail of emotional wreckage in our teams because of our reaction, which often leads our team members to feel guilt and silently place blame amongst themselves
Or, do we inspire and empower others during a setback – which, in reality, is not a failure but often a chance to reaffirm our commitment to the chosen path. Unlike the leader above, do we:
- take blame, fear and guilt out of the equation and look at the setback from a perspective of healthy reflection and understanding; from a place of confidence in our abilities and our own inner power
- use the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the organization’s/team’s vision – and to tweak or clarify it if necessary
- demonstrate the trust we have in our teams by empowering them to determine the correct strategies to get back on track towards that vision, adjusting and re-focusing on key objectives in the process
- leave our teams more energized from the experience because of the way we handled it and the way we showed respect for them
To be clear, I am not in any way saying that if members of the team are not doing their jobs – and that there was a clear and unacceptable reason for the setback – that there should not be consequences. There should be.
But, I have come to believe there is an art in responding to setbacks, and I believe that the art is much more complex, powerful and impactful than I ever realized.
I have work to do in my personal life to act like the leader with “higher angels” when it comes to responding to my own setbacks. I’m genuinely optimistic about the challenge. But I like to think in the business world I am much more apt to respond like the second leader…
How about you – have you mastered the art of the setback?
Photo is of Elisabet Ney’s marble sculpture of Lady Macbeth taken by cliff1066.