What Talented Leaders Know: 4 Keys to Managing Disappointment

My dear friend Amy Tirion, founder of Delight for the Soul and an all-around wise, wonderful and beautiful person, recently published a great blog post on disappointment.

I believe disappointment is universal, permeating our personal and professional lives. Anyone who hasn’t experienced true disappointment in their lives can stop reading now and can go back to the remote island they live on for another pina colada.

I believe that there’s an innate drive in talented leaders which enables them to fully embrace the benefits that disappointment can offer.

4 keys to managing disappointment

Talented people seem to springboard from disappointment and use it to benefit their performance, like a great athlete who uses it to motivate for the next race. What sets the truly talented apart seems to be their ability to process the experience and use it to their advantage.

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Here are the keys to managing disappointment:

  • Use it to improve how you set and manage expectations. A lack of expectations is the quickest way to disappoint others and achieve disappointing results. If you don’t know or don’t state what you want out of your meeting, your sponsor, your stakeholders or your team, how will you know what success looks like? Define the expectations for your Steering Committee meeting, remind stakeholders about the expectations for their role and communicate the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) when asking employees to make a difficult change.
  • Admit it. By this, I don’t mean telling someone else that they have disappointed you; rather, it’s about admitting you’ve disappointed others. It can be really hard to do, especially with your boss, because we fear the consequences of laying out our shortcomings to people in a position of power over our career. Yet, watching a talented leader admit disappointment is a magical thing. It makes us realize that it’s OK to make mistakes and conversely enables us to take bigger risks – hopefully leading to bigger successes at the end of the day.
    • Try this sometime – talk to your kids about something you’ve done to disappoint them. It’s beautiful to watch a deeper respect and comfort with making mistakes and telling the truth blossom as a result.
  • Learn from it. From a professional development perspective, it can be intimidating to receive performance feedback, but it’s crucial to our ability to learn from our mistakes and succeed. I started at a consulting firm early in my career that shaped my perspective on continuous feedback – I got it all the time and consequently learned how to make improvements that have served me so well over the course of my career.
  • Move on. This one should be the easiest to do, but I find it the hardest to put into practice. Letting go emotionally of our disappointment in others (or their disappointment with us) is not easy, but it’s critical. Talented people fundamentally understand that the more quickly they let go of emotions surrounding disappointment, the more quickly they can get back to the job of training and preparing for the next thing that’s right around the corner.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.


5 Comments on “What Talented Leaders Know: 4 Keys to Managing Disappointment

  1. Sheri – great post.  I think a key behavioral characteristic that leaders share is resiliency – the ability to learn, bounce back and overcome – which you’ve clearly articulated with your post.

  2. Nice post, Sheri. I think you are right that the most talented people learn & grow from disappointment – because clearly, we all experience it. And, ‘move on’ can be the hard part. But, great athletes are able to do this very quickly….we can learn from that.

  3. Being able to effectively manage disappointment is huge in learning from the experience and coming out in a better place and able to bounce back contribute more fully going forward.  Thanks for your insight.

  4. Great post Sheri – taking the time to explore what happened, learn from the situation and quickly move on – helps the best get better.

  5. Very timely, Sheri. We saw this play out time and time again at the Olympics, people using disappointment from 4 years ago, driving them to work hard and try again. Even if your next “test” is a long road, it’s important to use the disappointment as fuel but not as the definition of you.

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