The Limits of Managing Disappointment

We all become disappointed in something sooner or later. We can be disappointed with our finances. We can be disappointed with our government. We can be disappointed with the choices of those close to us. There are a number of things that can disappoint us at any given moment. Often times, we become disappointed with what we do for a living. As a leader, the impact of this can reach much further than a momentary experience of frustration.

Disappointment has a funny way of whittling away at our expectations. No one truly enjoys the feeling of being disappointed, so to avoid it we can have a tendency to adjust what we expect in order to evade that sinking feeling we get when we become disappointed. We adjust our perception of reality and then allow that new perspective govern our worldview. Some might argue this is developing wisdom, but as a leader we both know this can begin to chip away at the effectiveness of how we lead.

If we don't make it a point to stay on top of things when we experience disappointment, we can easily slide into assuming a defensive posture. Sometimes we simply made a poor choice or some minor mistake that had greater impact than we could have imagined. It was a learning process for us. Do we let the disappointment from that learning experience diminish future possibilities?

As leaders, we purposefully put ourselves in harm's way so to speak. We throw our head on the chopping block with every chance, initiative, and decision we make. It is what we do. Leadership just wouldn't be leadership without this taking place. We fail, pick ourselves up, and have another go at it. Failure is all part of the process. We read about it and we talk about it. What we seem to leave off the table is how gun shy we can become after taking one on the chin.

I know I have had to re-visit a number of disappointments from my past and allow myself to adjust how I viewed what was possible. Like I said, this response to being disappointed can slip under the radar cleverly disguised as wisdom but are we allowing wisdom to be the fall guy and some cheap excuse for limiting what we believe can be possible? Sometimes my disappointment came from not what I did, but how I did it. Other times it was just dumb timing.

Think back to some disappointments and pay attention to your response. Did it place an unnecessary limitation on the possibilities you perceive that are available? We love to get all worked up from the emotional charge that comes from the statement, "Everything is possible!", but does our internal dialogue truly support that? The next time you find yourself drifting towards what can't be done, it might be in your best interest (and those you lead) to make sure it's not just you lowering your expectations to try and manage or avoid a feeling of being disappointed.

If, as a leader, you are "lowering your standards to up your average" then you are teaching those you lead to do the same. When you're not around to keep things moving forward, this is definitely not the mentality you want ruling the roost while you're out. We don't have to be superheros and never be affected by disappointments, we just need a healthy and more objective response to them. What an amazing thing to be able to show to those you lead...that disappointments in the past aren't some prophetic gesture to how things have to play out in the future.