How To Find Your Leadership After Failure. He Swings. He Shoots. He Misses.
Over the past months I’ve spoken a lot about my journey to lead Guyana to the final round of the World Cup Qualifiers. This was my big, hairy, audacious goal (Jim Collins, Good to Great). It had never been done before. I wanted it for our team, our staff, for our country more than anything. I wanted this. I was leaving no stone unturned. I funded my own recruitment service to identify talent. I created my own Christmas holiday camp. The staff was meticulous in their planning and details. We knew that we had a chance, and we honestly felt like we were going to do it. We went through the first three games undefeated. Our final match was in Tobago. We knew that if we took care of business and won, we would accomplish our goal.
I could tell we were ready when I walked in the changeroom. We took the lead late in the first half, 1-0. When Trinidad and Tobago tied it up, we took the lead again: 2-1. We were a minute away from accomplishing our goal when, unfortunately, we shut off. A fluke, errant kick found its way in a bouncing ball scramble into the back of the goal. Trinidad tied the game, and that was all they needed to advance. We were a minute away from accomplishing what many thought was impossible.
There is no joy in second place. We fell short of our goal. We did not qualify for the World Cup. We went home empty-handed.
To say we were devastated would be an understatement. We were despairing, despondent, demolished and any other d-word you can imagine… put it on the list.
You can include doubt in there, as well, because when you lose, as a coach, you doubt all your actions and wonder what you could have done differently. There are often times that high performers set lofty, ambitious goals and are unable to achieve them.
It’s a careful balancing act to know how high to reach so that you push yourself while recognizing that in striving, you will not catch every goal you set your eyes upon.
How you lead when you fall short of your goal is key to maintaining the ground you’ve gained in its pursuit.
Leaders that seek true excellence and aspirational challenges will miss our goals from time to time. How we choose to react in the moments after are key to how you maintain the commitment of your team; how they can continue to believe; and, whether they will go on following you to the ends of the earth.
It’s easy to get lost in the emotion of failure — to blame others for their errors. It’s common to feel embarrassment and shame when the spotlight is on you right when you didn’t deliver. It’s tempting to blame third parties: ‘I didn’t have the resources, the budget.’ Deflecting doesn’t allow you to actually REFLECT and ask yourself the important questions: “What should I have done better?” and “What could I do differently?”
FOUR STEPS TO LEADING AFTER FAILURE—
FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH THE DARK:
#1. Be quiet.
I don’t address the team immediately with any critical feedback. I’m too emotional, and they’re too emotional. The message will not be clear. It will not be interpreted in the right way. There is no value gained with harsh words. Be as supportive as you can here. Allow people the space others need to express the emotions that they need to share. Listen. Do not react. Make no decisions. Take no actions.
#2. Stay still.
Sometimes when we put all of our resources into a goal and it doesn’t happen, we want to throw up our hands and walk away. We’re exhausted. We may feel that our efforts were futile or unappreciated. Recognize that now is not the time for actions. Wait. Allow yourself some critical time to think, to weigh, to measure… You may choose to pen a letter. Don’t send it. You may choose to vent — only do it with your closest, innermost circle to test your thinking. Don’t bottle it up inside you. It can become toxic.
It’s time to do an honest, deep dive reflection where you are actively soliciting feedback–the raw, sometimes hard to hear, feedback. Cast a wide net. Hear feedback from your trusted advisors, from the people inside your team and from those on the outside looking in. Look for the consistent messages and themes. If we do this step superficially, we won’t make measurable, significant gains. I always know that I’ve made the right decision if, after the action, I ask myself would I still do it the same way again. If the answer is no, there is a teachable moment there—the actions and choices I would change if I could. Search for the teachable moments and take action to put those alternative actions and choices into your practices moving forward. Now you’ve got something different to try–something you’ve hashed out after honest, deep and collaborative reflection.
Once you’ve calmed down, sorted it out, gathered your feedback, distilled your lessons learned and planned your steps to improve, you need to gather your team to share your findings. It’s not a one-way conversation. Make sure your team’s feedback is reflected clearly in this stage so they actually hear and see their own words. Bringing the group back together and sharing lessons learned engenders trust and loyalty. It’s then time to begin again.
Remind your fellow high performers that nothing great comes easily. Stress that persistence is the key to excellence, and begin again.