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Leadership Secrets: Dealing with Setbacks

I talk about 20 core leadership secrets in my executive coaching, speaking, and writing. But if someone asked me to name a secret strategy that can make an immediate impact, I would pick the behaviors that counter setbacks.

All of us have had (and will continue to have) some professional setbacks: prospects breaking off at the last moment after a seemingly agreeable interaction, clients jumping to the competition, etc. How does an effective leader react and respond to setbacks? While I can’t say that I am totally immune to the vagaries of rejection and setbacks, here are five simple and quick daily practices that have helped me and can help you as well:

1. Budget discrete time for disappointment. While I believe in positive psychology, I don’t believe in ignoring reality. I acknowledge the sinking feeling I get in my stomach when negative events occur. I know that it will make me feel discouraged and disappointed. What I have taught (and am constantly teaching) myself is to create a discrete timeline in my mind and tell myself that I will stop ruminating over the event after that arbitrary time limit. Where you set that limit is up to you. (The sooner the better, obviously). You’ll get better at it as you practice this behavior.

2. Go back to your personal mission statement. The personal mission statement is one of my centering tools, and I especially go back to it when I have setbacks. Do the “whys” still hold true? Am I doing what I am doing for the right reasons? Do they align with my personal and professional themes for the year/future? This exercise serves to firm up my spine and point me back in the direction I should head toward. Do you have a personal mission statement?

3. Rapidly accelerate. I shift up my “MPH” (Magnificent Performance Horsepower) to a different gear and focus intensely on my activity plans. I have found that nothing accelerates outcomes better than positive action. The time after a setback is the second-best time to accelerate (the best being when you succeed), so focus on action more than ever before. It is quite common to have doubts, of course, especially after a setback, which is why it is important to have a framework for action. I prefer to practice a weekly leadership ritual that gives me a discrete foundation for action. What about you?

4. Find and finish. I pick an outcome in a space that I have influence over (current project, personal project, personal life) and finish it! It is important to me at this point to gain the feeling of achievement and credibility I get by successfully reaching a notable outcome. This is also the time to go back to that one activity you have been procrastinating about. The best way to build your core back up is to focus on achievement and credibility.

5. Surround yourself with the right people. This is exactly the wrong time to hang around people who don’t understand your goals and vision. Unfortunately, many people closest to you may fall into this category. It is simply best not to solicit any feedback from folks who say things like, “Well, it was always going to be tough to do that,” or “This is why I didn’t try to do that— I could have if I wanted to,” or the best one of all: “I told you so!” Understand that you don’t have to react to this unsolicited feedback. Practice the art of selective hearing with the naysayers and seek support from people who are positively inclined and are striving toward transformation just as you are.

Learn more in this AMA seminar: 
Moving Ahead: Breaking Behavior Patterns That Hold You Back

About the Author(s)

Vinay Nadig is the author of Leadership IS for Everyone: 20 Leadership Secrets for Exceptional Outcomes and Fulfillment at Work. He has had a 20+ year career as a consultant, entrepreneur, and business unit head in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, technology, and airline sectors. For more information, visit www.vinay-nadig.com and www.leadershipdharma.com