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TCFP191: What To Do When They Blow It

How do you respond when your employee loses a big customer, misses an important deadline, or fails on a big project? Every leader will deal with disappointment, but how you handle disappointment reflects more on you as a leader than on the person. In fact, coaching an employee who failed to meet your expectations will be one of your most significant opportunities to build your leadership brand and credibility in your organization. In today's episode, we discuss three things you can do to lead through disappointment.

1. Maintain Composure

Take a moment to breathe and think before you react. When you address the employee, ensure you know your intention for the conversation and the desired outcome. Keep in mind that you carry authority in your organization. Everything you are about to say and do will affect how other people view you and your employees will do in the future. You may be justified in your anger and disappointment, but always put the mission above yourself. Your leadership brand is far too important to lose due to a short temper.

Q: Describe when you saw a leader respond with their emotions. How did it affect your view of them? Have you ever had to repair a relationship because you lashed out? Discuss how it affected your relationships and how you regained trust and respect.

2. Assume Good Intent

When preparing for your discussion with the team member, focus on the disappointing outcome, not the person. When you believe the employee did not intentionally cause the disappointment, it takes the edge off your approach and positively affects your mindset. Realize that the employee knows they messed up and, in most cases, they have already internally beat themselves up. Employees become fearful when they feel punished or believe the boss is mad at them. Their creativity and innovation will decrease and contribute to a culture of fear among your team.

Q: Describe a time when a boss responded to your failure in a way that helped you improve. What was different about their approach? Do you agree that most employee disappointments are not intentional? Why or why not?

3. Acknowledge your role in the person's failure

As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for your people. Chances are that you played some part in their failure, even if it was small. By acknowledging that you are responsible, you will find ways to restore them and strengthen your process moving forward to save others from the same mistake.

Q: Why do you think leaders may be responsible for their team's failures? What can your company do better in hiring and onboarding to avoid impactful mistakes? What can you (or your leaders) do better to support you?

Application Activities:

  1. Evaluate your current reputation. Do people think of you as someone who is easily angered? Does your team avoid speaking up when they see a mistake or shy away from sharing innovative ideas? These are signs that your team may have been intimidated by how you (or a former leader) responded to failure. In your next meeting, make it clear that you are willing to take risks and try new things, even if they don't work out. If you've mismanaged someone's failure, apologize privately and publicly state your future intentions. Then, walk the walk! Make sure that you follow through on your new way of thinking.

  2. Evaluate your employee development plans, starting with yourself! Do you have the resources you need to grow as a leader in your business? If not, work with your boss to get them and develop a plan for personal growth. Then look at your employees. When was the last time you went through a book or training together? How often are your employees learning new skills or earning new certifications? Decide on a plan and work with your employees to implement it during the next 4 weeks. Then, set aside time in your one-on-one to see how the plan is going, hear what you're employees are learning, and answer any questions.


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