Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where a major deadline wasn’t met. A sales goal wasn’t reached. An important deliverable wasn’t delivered.
People were waiting on you. You fell behind schedule. You or your team got distracted with other urgent matters. For whatever reason, you just couldn’t make it happen.
And then the house of cards collapses on itself. There’s no getting around the fact that you didn’t deliver as promised. You’re up shit creek without a paddle.
What do you do in this situation?
The first step is to avoid falling into an emotional state of mind, which we’re all prone to do at times like these.
Feelings of disappointment, despair, anger, and loneliness will likely surface because we are all emotional beings. Thoughts like “How the f*** did this happened?!” or “How do I dig myself out of this hole?” are normal, but you must move on.
You need to move to a more logical state. It might require a day off, working out at the gym, or even taking a few shots of your favorite liquid (just don’t overdo it!).
But do whatever it takes to avoid having an emotional overreaction. You can’t solve the problem unless you have a calm, clear mind.
The next step is to take ownership. That may not be so simple because sometimes our natural reaction is to find an excuse or to blame someone else when something goes wrong.
It might be your team’s “fault” for not working hard enough (“We all agreed on the plan! Why didn’t you stay late every day to finish it?”). It might be your boss’s “fault” for not communicating the priorities better (“The CEO keeps coming with new ideas and changes direction every week!”) or not being more clear about the process (“If we had more time for planning and feedback, we could have avoided this situation!”).
This kind of behavior started when we were kids. We never did anything wrong — things just “happened.” The lamp broke, but I didn’t break it. The teacher gave too much homework, so I didn’t have enough time to prepare for the test. And so on.
This mindset made no sense then and we shouldn’t fall into this trap now. I’m not saying we’re behaving like kids; I’m only saying that we find comfort in this false mindset.
The worst thing you can do is focus on finding fault. Trying to figure out who’s to blame won’t lead you to the solution.
You need to focus on ownership. You need to take responsibility. Whether you’re the team leader or an individual contributor (which means you’re leading yourself), you’re responsible.
The first step is to say: I own this. This is not where I want us to be. I’m not happy about it. I will own up to this mess, but I will also own the process of fixing it. It’s on me. I will lead the way toward a solution.
When you offer accountability in this way, what can the other person say but “OK, good! let’s get going”?
By being humble and honest, you have diffused the situation. By being accountable, you put the focus on working toward a solution rather than trying to place blame.
The first step is to say: I own this. This is not where I want us to be. I will own up to this mess, but I will also own the process of fixing it
By contrast, a lot of people focus on coming up with “reasons” for their failure. Saying things like, “Well, if we didn’t change priorities every week, we could have made our deadline” or “If you read my email updates, you would have known we were falling behind” only lead to more battles and more pushback.
Of course, you might be right. Maybe the CEO did change his or her mind every week. Maybe you did make it clear in status meetings and emails that you were falling behind. But none of that really matters now.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the long-term fixes should come later. You have to separate tactics from strategy at this stage. Your job right now is to figure out the tactical solution to your situation. The strategy part can wait.
Neither you, your boss nor your team can deal with both of these things at the same time. First, put out the fire and get things on the right track. Later on, you can focus on the systemic issues that led you into the problem in the first place.
If you’re an ambitious, hard-working, high-achieving individual, you will undoubtedly find yourself in a situation where you can’t deliver on your promises. You will disappoint your team, your boss, your investors, your board, and yourself. It will happen. You will fail.
And it’s not because you’re lazy or not smart. Quite the opposite, actually. People who are high achievers often push themselves beyond their own abilities. It’s how they grow and become better at what they do.
Just understand that life is one long school. Everything that happens to us is a teachable moment, whether we succeed or we fail.
You’re always going to face those dark times when everything is going to shit. What’s the most productive way to deal with it? It always starts with being accountable and taking responsibility. It starts with diffusing the situation by owning up to it.
You can’t change the past but you can create the future: Own the problem and take the lead to find a solution