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How To Recover From A Setback
Seven tools to help high achieving leaders deal with the uncontrollable
Many of the high-achieving leaders I work with pride themselves on their ability to face challenges head-on. They are quick to take the lead, tenacious, and thrive on driving high-quality results.
Yet it’s the same leaders, who often share with me a quiet internal struggle to handle things when they don’t go as they’d envisaged.
The energy and qualities that have helped them attain the success they have; the persistent determination to focus on forward progress and working hard enough to beat the odds - can rub against situations that are not ultimately controllable.
When they do, feelings of anxiety, impatience, and frustration are often well-masked on the surface. And the sentiment of ‘I’m going to work so hard to make sure that never happens again’ is admirable.
Yet underneath this ambition lies a deep-rooted fear of opening themselves up to being vulnerable to things going wrong again.
The challenge is that things can go wrong, and occasionally do.
Setbacks don’t discriminate by seniority, experience, or demographic. And success is rarely and solely dependent on you.
But the way you deal with setbacks is within your control. You can let it derail you, or you use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
To help you be the leader you can be when you’re at your best, here are seven tools to navigate setbacks when they happen.
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Lead it. Leaders are observed closely. How you handle setbacks and mistakes will set the cultural tone for those around you and the saying “it’s not about the mistakes that you make, it’s how you handle them that counts” has a degree of truth. Yet demonstrating resilience doesn’t mean being impervious.
Reflect on how your Board and leadership team approach situations when they don’t go as envisaged.
How does your individual approach to setbacks shape your collective Board approach?
How closely does the way you collectively act, think and communicate, reflect your organisations values?
What impact does this have on the way others in your business lead and manage?
Share. Being a self-aware leader means being aware of what’s going on with your ‘self’. And whilst talking is one way of processing your thoughts, it doesn’t suit everyone.
If you’re a self-sufficient leader or if you care what others think it may be difficult to be open about your vulnerabilities with those around you.
Do however take a beat, check in with yourself and reflect.
What do you notice happens in mind, body and heart when you think about the situation at hand?
How does this manifest itself internally and externally?
How can you use these signals in your mind, body or heart to help you in future?
Decide: Leaders who place a high value on their achievements may feel their highest sense of worth when they are successful in the eyes of others. And when things go wrong, it can leave you feeling vulnerable to others seeing you as not being as perfect as the image you’d like to project.
Being crystal clear on the values you want to live by will go some way to helping you accept your successes and failures, rather than them being conditional on what others think.
What values and principles are important to you?
What do you judge yourself on?
The VIA has an excellent short free survey to help you find your character strengths and values here:
Reframe: When you’re not feeling at your best as a result of a setback, reframing it can be useful.
Write down three positive aspects of the situation you’re experiencing. Identifying the achievements within your challenges can help you maintain a positive attitude when you need it most.
And then ask yourself:
What would you at your best do in the situation you find yourself in?
What behaviours and mindset would you see?
What would you tell yourself?
Act: For results-driven leaders sitting and stewing will only get you so far. Whether you feel like it or not, find a quick win to get you back on track. It could be as simple as putting in a good morning run, or it could be making progress with another work initiative.
What’s one thing that you can look to that will help get back on track?
Learn: You learn far more about yourself when things go wrong than you do than when they go well. If you take the opportunity to learn. Building a reflection habit that you can scale will serve you well.
Take a moment and imagine you are up in the sky, in a helicopter, watching yourself dealing with a setback.
What energy, mindset and behaviour would you want to see in yourself?
Think about your last big setback. How far did reality match your aspirational view?
What one insight can you take from that to support you deal with future setbacks?
Craft your story. Many things in life look better in retrospect. Think about the best stories you’ve been told. Many of them don’t come from situations that went to plan, instead they stem from mistakes or tales of the unexpected. Think forward:
How will you tell the story in 10 years time?
How important will you make it?
Project yourself ten years forward and look back, imagining you are telling the story of what happened. Complete these two sentences:
I remember the time when…
That was the time that I (e.g. learned/changed/found)…
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