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How to lead when things don't go to plan

Leadership is often seen as a role of accomplishment and success, but the reality is that it can also be an arena for failure. Failing isn't something we should fear or run away from, rather we should use any mistakes or missteps as opportunities to learn and grow.

To help you navigate through these unexpected moments of challenge, we've put together some tips on how to lead when things don’t go according to plan.

People will look to you for direction

When faced with a difficult situation, it is important that you stay calm and take control to ensure everyone takes the right steps to address the issue. Pull people together and look for ways to solve the problem quickly and effectively without causing further disruption. Show empathy to those affected but remain focused on finding a practical solution.

Take a step back and assess the situation - what went wrong and why

Sometimes in the chaos, we can get caught up in a whirlwind of disappointment that leads us to emotive decisions, and actions that might be less than ideal or may even make things worse. When that happens, it's important to take a step back and assess the situation from a distance. Don't be afraid to ask yourself some tough questions: What went off-course? Why did things go awry? By stepping back and carefully examining the situation, you can gain valuable, fresh perspectives on what may have led to the undesired outcome. This simple act of reflection allows you to take responsibility, learn from your mistakes, and develop better strategies for the future. It's not always an easy task, but it's one that has the potential to bring about significant positive change. So, give yourself the time and space to reflect at what actually happened, try to understand why or how it happened and be honest about the overall impact of what has gone wrong.

Make sure to have a plan B in place

It's always wise to have a plan B in place before things take a turn for the worse. We've all experienced those unforeseen hiccups, whether it's a change you have tried to implement or a project failing. Having a backup plan not only saves you from unnecessary stress and scrambling to react to emerging problems, but also empowers you to handle those curveballs with grace and agility. Prepare for the unexpected, and instead of letting those setbacks knock you off course, let your plan B keep you moving forward with confidence.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them - sometimes failure is the best teacher

Embracing failure might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes it's the best teacher we could ever ask for. Just think about the number of successful people who have stumbled along the way, and how their resilience and willingness to learn from mistakes propelled them forward. So, rather than avoiding challenges for fear of failure, why not approach them head-on, armed with the knowledge that each mistake offers an opportunity for growth and self-improvement? By maintaining a positive mind-set and accepting the inevitability of failure at times, you can turn each setback into a valuable lesson and find motivation to persevere in the face of adversity. We aren’t born fearing failure, it’s a habit we learn, so that means we can learn a different habit too. My son told me that at his school they define FAIL as First Attempt In Learning, I really like that mind-set as it stops us being afraid to try. After all, the road to success is often paved with failures, so don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. To hear some great examples of how people have embraced and moved on from failure, have a listen to Elizabeth Day’s podcast ‘How to Fail’.

Surround yourself with people who can offer words of encouragement and wisdom when things don't go as planned

When things don’t quite go to plan, it's crucial to surround yourself with people who can offer words of encouragement and wisdom, helping you navigate through it. These individuals, like mentors, a coach and trusted colleagues, can act as a safety net that keeps you grounded and motivated, even when the going gets tough. By having a circle of people who understand you and what you are trying to achieve, you'll feel more secure and less alone in dealing with any challenges. Plus, listening to their experiences and advice can help you make better decisions and unlock new perspectives. So, build and cultivate those relationships, as they'll ultimately help you flourish, grow, and persevere when things don’t quite go to plan.

Get creative with problem solving - think outside of the box for new solutions

Embracing creativity in problem-solving can lead to innovative and unexpected solutions that surpass the conventional way of thinking. When we challenge ourselves to think outside the box, we open the door to a world of possibilities. By analysing problems from various perspectives and engaging with others, we not only unlock creative potential but also stimulate cognitive flexibility, allowing us to adapt and find a successful way forward. Bring people together who have different perspectives to look at the situation from all angles. Encourage open and honest conversations and generation of ideas, while giving each person a chance to express their thoughts in a safe environment. Show respect for everyone’s opinions and be willing to compromise if needed.

Finally, don’t let what’s happened change your attitude to taking on new challenges.

Failing is never fun and nobody wants to think about it or plan for it, but when we do confront failure, it's important to remember to stay strong and resilient. Despite trying times, you can come out of even the most daunting situations with a newfound knowledge, experience, and appreciation. Keep in mind that making mistakes is part of life, even some of history's most successful leaders have had their fair share of failures before success. Remember that there's no one size fits all approach to problem solving, so if you're stuck getting creative and seeking input from others can be a major key. Lastly, as Babe Ruth said ‘Never let the fear of striking out, keep you from playing the game’!


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