My wife and I are sitting in the Denver airport waiting for a flight back home from spending five days with our best friends. We were there to help them prepare their home for their sick mom. As we sit here at the gate, I find myself reflecting on this trip and how things often don’t go as planned, neither at home nor in business. As leaders, we have project lists and deadlines to meet, and sometimes things don’t happen as expected.


Similarly, this morning, Lise and I got up with a list of things to complete for our friends before we left. Things were going well, but then a plumbing project decided to not go as planned. After working on it all day, we finally had to leave for the airport, project not completed. I was moody as we prepared to depart their house, as I hated not completing everything, and it made me frustrated. In my mind, this was truly ruining the entire trip. As we said our goodbyes, my best friend reminded me of what we accomplished and the fun we had together. He was looking at the same thing, just from a different perspective.


That perspective is everything, just as much in business. As leaders, how do we react when our projects do not go as planned? Your reaction defines how your team reacts when faced with adversity. They are looking to you.


It is understandable to get angry when things are not completed, but the real question is, “Does the outcome change because you are angry?” No, it doesn’t. The truth is this is a great learning moment for the team and you as a leader. Instead of brooding over what just went wrong, try instead to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How do we insulate our projects from things like this in the future?

This is going to sound weird, but celebrate the failure, not because you failed but because it is teaching you valuable lessons for the future.


Leading with this type of attitude shows your team what you value.


Here’s some real-world application of this. In our plumbing project, we had made the decision earlier in the trip to inventory the parts and supplies my friend had at his house to save a little money. After hours and hours and then finally asking the questions above, we started over. We determined that one of the items we decided not to buy was bad and wasn’t doing what it was designed to do. The irony of it – we tried to save money on a less-than-five-dollar product, and it cost us way more than that in time in the long run. We decided at that point there were certain things we would always buy new.


Here are three sets of activities to do when you find yourself upset or frustrated and your plans don’t go as planned, whether at home or in the business place:

  1. Stop and Reflect – Pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Now, reflect on what has happened and why you’re upset. Is it because things didn’t go your way? Maybe it makes you feel like a failure, or maybe you realized it was caused by a preventable mistake. Realize that getting angry will not change the past and focus on the future.
  2. Gather and Discuss– Bring everyone who played a part in the project together and walk through the process you just went through. Use an open-door discussion to have everyone reflect on what happened and what they could have changed or recognize sooner. Everyone on the team needs to participate, even if the problem did not come from their area. Why? Because you are a team, and everyone needs to evaluate how they are helping one another.
  3. Learn and Develop – Both previous steps will produce ideas and learnings. Make sure you are capturing them because that will be the key ingredient to develop your next plan. Celebrate the new plan and each other for contributing to making the process better.

Leading like this through the tough times will create a team that will be able to take on any challenge. Just remind them of the accomplishments and the fun you had doing it together.