I’m sure most of us, at one time or another, have had a project cancelled, or report/presentation we’ve been working on changed by our manager with little explanation.  You’ve put a lot of effort in to the detail, worked long hours to get it completed, put your heart and soul into the results.   What do you think and feel if that piece of work then gets cancelled or changed, or even seems to be ignored?

I have to admit, that I’ve been guilty of reviewing some work that one of my team has done (excellent work at that), and then been so interested in taking that information and pushing it to the next stage, that I’ve not taken the time or effort to actually tell that person that I appreciated what was given to me and the effort that had been put in to the results so far.  I did thank them, but certainly didn’t communicate that their work had been essential for us to base our next decisions on, I just carried on.  And the worst bit for me was that another of my team had to explain to that individual how appreciative I actually was, just by virtue of what we were doing with it.

When the same thing has happened to me, I know I’ve felt de-motivated.  When a project, for instance, that’s been worked on for months, has its budget cut or is de-prioritised, it’s disappointing to say the least.  It can drain our energy and confidence, and could affect our future objectives and goals.

So, what would you have liked your boss to have done or said, when you were in that situation:

  • Is there anything that can be salvaged and produced from the data so far?
  • Is there some learning that could be shared with your team?
  • Could you have been asked to present the information anyway?
  • Provided a detailed explanation of the thinking behind the decision made?
  • Provided feedback on your contribution, and how those skills can be transferred?

As a leader, there will be times when your team are disappointed in a decision or action made. As well as the above, it could be if a presentation goes wrong, a client is lost, or a promotion isn’t achieved.  But helping to reduce the disappointment, learn from mistakes, and communicate effectively is part of a leader’s essential skill set.

Disappointment is that gap between what we had expected and what was achieved.  Sometimes that gap is small and can be easily managed, and sometimes it is much more damaging to individual and team morale and motivation.

So, as a leader, as well as managing any disappoints you personally have, consider the following with your team:

  • Communicating effectively, demonstrating an understanding of where disappointment could be triggered.
  • What can be learnt from the setback?
  • Understanding motivational needs and how you can provide opportunities for improvement.
  • Encourage feedback and build a trusting environment for open discussion of concerns and issues.
  • Ensure that goals remain just as challenging, as there can be a tendency to make targets easier to avoid future disappointments.
  • What can you and your team members learn from themselves through this situation?  Self-awareness provides insight into motivational needs and stress triggers, which can be discussed and understood during real time analysis.

What examples do you have of these types of situations, and how can you learn from that to leader your team in the future?


  1. admin

    Thanks to Adrian Martorana on Linked In:
    Well put. I might be stating the obvious but one key element is to put everything in context by explaining the rationale for such decision in an open and transparent manner. You want to avoid disappointment and ensure motivation – you also want to make sure that the executive management team is seen as having made a logical decision (as much as you can) so as to avoid them losing credibility.

  2. admin

    Thanks to Tony Tydeman on Linked In:
    As a sales person my approach to set backs is an obvious one but hopefully worth mentioning. Firstly, I need to figure out why I have received a “no” and then to tackle that particular issue head on. If I still get a no, I will look at my conversion rate of enquiries to sales. If it is 25% for example, then for every 3 “nos” on average I will get 1 “yes”. So every no takes me part way there! I see it very much as a positive.

  3. admin

    Thanks to James Shillaker on Linked In:
    Feedback, feedback and feedback. Remember Brian Clough’s remark after he had dropped Martin O’Neil to the second team at Forest? When O’Neil asked why he was in the second team Brian Clough remarked – “because you’re too good for the 3s!”
    Whilst I believe in tailoring responses to individuals, you also have to protect your own management style. Suddenly changing your behaviour, style or demeanor just to handle disappointment can appear insincere. I would argue the art of handling success is almost identical to handling disappointment. Possibly more important to feedback success than it is disappointment??

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