The Morning After

If you are a Dallas sports fan, it was a rough weekend.  The Texas Rangers were within one strike – twice, yes, twice – of winning the World Series, but it was not to be.  The Dallas Cowboys were otherwise engaged when they played the Eagles Sunday night.  Not good.  While many Dallas sportswriters are talking about the strength of the bullpen or defensive schemes, I am thinking about what a leader does to keep the team together after a failure or huge disappointment.

It’s great to hold the trophy to wild applause, be knighted at the all-company meeting or for your team’s project to wildly exceed expectations.  But, what happens when things go wrong. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Your mourning period is approximately 30 minutes – Ok, maybe an exaggeration, but as a leader you can allow yourself a walk around the block or a glass of wine that night to console yourself.  But, you are the one everyone is looking to answer ‘now what?’.  You can’t if you are still mired in your disappointment over what could have been.
  2. De-personalize ~ the big stage can bring big failures – So, if you are doing big, bold projects and taking on big challenges, your failures are very visible.  That is part of it.  Don’t expect otherwise.  So, rather than spend your energy second guessing yourself, accept that it happens sometimes and learn from your experience.  So, if the product didn’t sell, the campaign flopped, or the new system transition fell short – deal with it and decide what to do next.
  3. Objectively understand what happened – The Texas Rangers had a pitching gap that caught up with them.  You have to know what exactly happened in your situation in a very specific way.  Not to lay blame, but to learn.  If you need objective outside help to be sure that happens – then get it.  Also, don’t throw the good out with the bad.  There were likely decisions taken that were brilliant and you will want to repeat.  So, zero in on what should be changed next time in a very targeted, objective way.
  4. Course correct quickly – At first glance, the Rangers have the entire offseason to regroup as a team, but not really.  Work is underway now to resign free agents and look for needed talent.  Based on your objective assessment, create a plan for quick action to move forward. Your timely decisions here will affect your success on the next one and help your team move their attention to solving.
  5. Talk straight with your team – Your team knows that it didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.  Acknowledge that and let them know that you understand it.  Don’t gloss it over, but it’s not the end of the world either.  Help them understand that as a team, you are going to move forward.  And, start doing just that – quickly.
  6. Recognize that failures are personal – The QB who threw the interception is going to need a conversation from you.  The closer who couldn’t get the last out, will need your time.  An important part of your role is to help your team get better and be successful.  This is one of those critical times that can change the course of a career.  Don’t miss it by assuming a team meeting checked the box.

These are the tough times for leaders.  But, that is why you “get paid the big bucks” as they say.  And, you are in pretty good company with Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison.  So, take a walk around the block and get on with it.