Dealing With Disappointment

Earlier this week most of New Zealand watched in awe and excited anticipation as the New Zealand Sevens Rugby Team took on South Africa in the Commonwealth Games final match.

We were looking forward to a good, clean, confident game. And with the Kiwis as the clear favourites, we all expected Tietjen’s boys to bank yet another convincing win.

But our expectations were quickly incinerated. The win we were vouching for did not eventuate.

After a remarkable run of thirty consecutive victories, dating back to the inaugural Sevens appearance at the 1998 Games, the dream ended before a sold-out crowd of 50,000 people.

It prompted me to think about the almighty weight of our expectations – and the expectations of others, for that matter.

What happens when we fall short of them?
What happens when the dream deteriorates?
And how do we deal with the disappointment?

I have seen this phenomenon occur in leadership time and time again.

Although nothing can prepare us for the feeling of perceived ‘failure’, there are some practical tips which can help.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with disappointment:-

1. Realise (and tell yourself as you lick your wounds) that disappointments, setbacks and ‘failure’ are all part of the journey to success and accomplishment.

Take any person, organisation or entity that you would consider a ‘success’.  I bet you a million bucks they have all overcome some adversity (or many difficulties and setbacks) to reach their pinnacle. An obvious example? Steve Jobs. Remember when he was fired from the company he founded? Not a particularly enjoyable day at the time for him, granted #understatement, but he often spoke of how he learned more from that experience than many of the successful moments in Apple’s history and described it as “the best thing that happened to me.”

If you are not stumbling, making mistakes or failing at some stage, you are not learning, growing or succeeding. Period.

2. Learn from it. Insight can only come from reflection, not necessarily the experience itself.  The sevens?  I bet there is now a huge amount of dissection, evaluation and reflection taking place around what went wrong, what they can learn and how they can use the experience to grow and develop.

Don’t fall into the trap of blame. That’s destructive.  My very first blog post in The Leader’s Digest talks about how to Use the Difficulty.

3. A bit like heartbreak, allow yourself a little pity party. But don’t stay wallowing for long. It’s OK (in fact darn right important in my opinion) to allow whatever feelings you have about the disappointment or failure to be recognised, felt and allowed to be expressed. Trying to brush aside uncomfortable feelings like sadness (or grief, or anger) tends to mean they surface in other, less helpful ways – or hold you back from moving forward.

So the adage of “move through not around” may be helpful here. Particularly if you are the leader or coach, its important you enable your team members the space to verbalise or share their feelings about it. Cue, listening.

4. Create a next steps strategy. Once you have completed the above three steps, note down what the next steps will be as a result. Know what you will do, how you will respond and the flow on effect of every action. Again, preparation is key.

5. Keep going. Perhaps this is the most important thing we can do. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and persist.

Here are three people who did just that:

Henry Ford: While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.

Akio Morita: You may not have heard of Morita but you’ve undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it, selling less than 100 units. This first setback didn’t stop Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion dollar company.

Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.

If you’re a successful leader, disappointments are inevitable…it’s how you handle them that counts.

“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.” – Robert Kiyosaki

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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