What to Do When People Let You Down

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[vimeo id="173514883"] Never be surprised when people act like people. This was good advice I received long ago. We are all flawed. I have let people down, and others have let me down. Sometimes intentionally. Mostly not. It’s not so much that it happens; it’s how you respond to it that determines whether or not that moment can be redeemed.

I remember working on an important project with a key team member. We worked tirelessly together to accomplish the goal. There were a few time-sensitive things that he needed to handle a particular way. For a variety of reasons, the project went sideways. Only, I didn’t know about it until much later than I should have.

DISAPPOINTMENT IS PART OF LEADERSHIP BECAUSE IT’S PART OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

When I finally discovered what had happened, not only was it a surprise to me, but it was a much bigger mess than if he had just followed through. He didn’t mean for it to evolve and erupt the way it did. I felt let down because I had trusted him with some important details. I was even a little frustrated with myself for not paying closer attention.

I could have responded a few different ways. I could have yelled at him, but I didn’t need to that. He was already hard on himself. I could have taken him off the project or refused to give him another one, but I needed him to lead in his current role. I could have just ignored it and never said another word about it, but it would have, for sure, become something that brewed inside me and created more conflict over time.

OUR ACTIONS WILL ALWAYS SPEAK LOUDER THAN OUR WORDS.

This wasn’t my first time being let down by someone I trusted with an important project. I have learned how to make the best use of these opportunities. I wanted to do something he wasn’t expecting.

Here is what I did:

• I was honest with him. I told him how I felt, my perception of the situation, and how it could be avoided in the future.

• I affirmed him. I reminded him that I gave him an important project because he had proven himself over and over again. I still believed in him.

• I laughed with him. I told him about a few of my blunders over the years. I find it healthy to laugh at myself. It’s reassuring for those you lead to be reminded that mistakes are part of leadership.

• I described what he could do differently next time. I didn’t just leave him with “hope for tomorrow.” We landed on a plan of action, so he would know what do to if that situation came up again.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish as a leader when you relate to people on a personal level. It’s easy to sit in a big chair behind a big desk with a big title and act like a fool. It’s much more difficult to get out of the chair, come around the desk, and connect with the people you lead on a human level. Sometimes you will need to ask for forgiveness and sometimes you will need to forgive others.

THE STRENGTH OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PEOPLE YOU LEAD WILL DEFINE THE LEVEL OF YOUR SUCCESS.

Leadership isn’t about perfection; it’s about relationships. And in the midst of relationships, you will fumble from time to time. So will others. It’s how you react and what you learn from it that turn a disappointment into a profitable experience.

People are the core of any breakthrough in your organization. Projects and plans are empty opportunities if you aren’t cultivating the people who need your investment of time, interest, and wisdom.

If you want to change your organization, change how you invest in people—even when they disappoint you.

CHALLENGE: Who do you lead that needs to hear that you mess up, too? Is there someone you need to forgive and redeem? Do that now. It will free the both of you up for greater things ahead.