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How To Lead Even When You Are Disappointed

If a leader can’t overcome disappointment, that is a bad omen for things to come.

“How are you going to react if you don’t get this job?”

A promotion was on the line. Matt was a member of my team who wanted to climb to the next level. I wasn’t asking the question because I didn’t think he was worthy of the job. In fact, this question ended up being the first one I asked him during the interview. It was also the first question I asked each candidate who sought a promotion. Of course, Matt and everyone else gave positive responses: “I’ll support the decision - whoever gets the job!” But, we all know this is not what always happens.

Many times, when someone does not get the promotion they are counting on and believe they really deserve, their attitude will tank. They get bitter and complain. Or, they just wallow in their own pit of self-pity.

When somebody reacted like this, I thought to myself, “Their attitude has just proven to me I made the right choice.” If a leader can’t overcome disappointment, it is a bad omen for things to come. When you are a leader, you get disappointed a lot. People disappoint you. Your bosses disappoint you. Circumstances disappoint you. Your reaction to those disappointments is a window into your character.

I do not believe leaders are immune to the pain of their disappointments. Each and every one of us absolutely feels that disappointment. But, what we choose to do in those situations—matters. Do we wallow or do we rise above being let down and reboot our attitudes? It takes time. It takes perspective. It takes a moment to process properly and work through it. Yet, true leaders take this time. With each disappointment in life, we have a choice to dwell in negativity or to choose Positivity.

Unfortunately for Matt, he did not get a promotion. But what I observed from him told me a lot about his character. He promised he’d support the person who eventually got the job—and he did just that. In fact, he stepped up and made the new leader feel at home. He assumed new responsibilities and made the new guy’s job easier. Guess who was the front runner when the next promotion came along? You guessed it—Matt! He was given the next opening and never looked back.

It is really easy to say we will accept the decisions of others with a good attitude, especially if we think it will turn out in our favor. But, when those decisions go against us or disappoint us in some other way, it is a character test.

Each time we have a choice between Positivity or negativity we have an opportunity to exercise Positivity and do a character rep. The choices we make in those times often determine the trajectory of our future.

After all, many of us know that what we do matters more the what we say. As the Proverb* says: “Even a child makes himself known by his acts….” Our actions say more about us than what we say, especially when we are disappointed. Yet, they can also have the power to change our lives in a positive way, just like Matt.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • How did you react the last time someone disappointed you?

  • In hindsight, would you do it differently?

  • What do those choices say about us to others?

*Proverbs 20:11 ESV



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