What To Do When Co-workers Let You Down…

January 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Meeting with co-workers

When you are trying to be a leader in any organization, there will be disappointment.  It’s inevitable.  How you react to that disappointment is really the only tool you have to deal with it.  I recently had a very disappointing time with several people I’m working with and thought I would share the lessons I learned in this situation.

Work and life in general isn’t always fun.  Shocker!  No matter how hard you try, people, places, and things will not live up to your expectations (unless you have really low expectations).  You are much better off not letting your unrealistic expectations ruin the joy that leading can bring.

Last week, I took it upon myself to bring several leaders in an organization together for a somewhat rare meeting.  The goal was to discuss an an upcoming time where the organization would be pushed to its limits.  I’m not talking about something small here either, I’m talking about a time where close to 130 people would have to be humming at over 100% for close to two months to hit several major deadlines.  The planning for something like this would take everything this location had.

The simplest and most important thing in a meeting like this is for everyone to at least show up (and be sober I guess).  Guess what?  Only 3 out of 5 bothered to make an appearance.  I was embarrassed to say the least and the meeting was cancelled for obvious reasons.

I had two choices at this point.  Get really angry and frustrated (which I did) and then take it out on my two no-shows or calmly have a discussion with them about my disappointment in their absence.

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Honestly, it was too hard for me to stay calm.  I just knew myself enough that I had to wait.  So, that’s what I did.  I even spoke with both of them that day and pretended like nothing happened.  It was the only way for me to keep my composure and keep from ruining the chance of re-scheduling the meeting.  I knew the meeting and its results were much more important than my temper.

So, I slept on it.  That always helps me in these situations.  Sure enough, a lighthearted conversation with each of them the next day easily showed them that I was serious about the meeting; that it was important to the business and that I wasn’t going to let it go that easy.

I did share with them my disappointment, but I did not let them know how much it affected me.  I clearly hadn’t done a good enough job in the first place showing them how important our dialogue was going to be for all of us.  I originally knew they didn’t want to have the meeting, but I didn’t care how they felt.  This was important (to me anyway)!

So, later the next day we re-scheduled the meeting.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a solid meeting.  There was debate and coordination and no data dumping.  One of the attendees (and one who I respect the most) even said, “that was very productive”.

The lesson I learned in all of this is that when I’m trying to lead people, my emotions aren’t important.  Everyone else’s are.  I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.  How everyone else feels about what we are trying to accomplish is at the heart of their actions.  If I’m not considerate of that, I risk losing their participation.

If you want to learn more about dealing with anger as a leader, be sure to read this amazing article about how Martin Luther King viewed anger in leadership.

Question: How have you handled disappointment with co-workers?