24 February 2006

Leadership and disappointment

It is not hard to imagine that leaders can be disappointed by the reactions they get from their direct colleagues. Everything you do is directed at helping and leading them and they do not recognize your efforts.
A simple reason could be, that your employees are used to your way of working and do not react to it like they used too. Another reason could be, that your employees do not know how they could react. Or do not understand, that a leader also likes to receive positive feedback. A forth reason could be, that employees never learned to see by what kind of positive actions they are surrounded. Yet another reason could be, that your actions as a leader are so indirectly connected to outcomes, that employees have trouble recognizing your impact as a leader on their experiences.

It becomes a strange situation, when a leader starts to complain about the behavior of people from outside his organization. If he is disappointed by his customers, who do not seem to understand that quality is costly. If he is disappointed about the fact that investments do not deliver within five years the expected market share and profit. When you are disappointed about the fact that your turnover grows less in one country compared to another, although neither are comparable.
The disappointment is even stranger, when the leader has a great succes under his belt. You decided to invest in a company, that others thought to be a bad investment. And after a year your decision turns out right. Your company’s profit grew 75% over the last year and you can pay your shareholders their dividend, for the first time in four years.
But maybe the disappointment is understandable. We often want to hear from the ones we see as close to ourselves to recognize our succes and the financial profits do not seem enough.
Or all our efforts are directed at making it possible to stay in a certain place, that seems to be difficult to maintain. We often see this happening when people try to keep a company or its headquarters connected to the county in which it was founded.

Coping with disappointment
How could a leader address his disappointment, to keep yourself from showing it in public? Because people do not understand that a successful organization complains about a small problem.
A first method could be to see that you are disappointed and why. Getting a clear understanding of your disappointment could be achieved by talking to an external party. Be careful who you choose, because journalist have their own goals when listening to you. Best is to find someone who has no stake in listening to you.
A second approach is stop looking at negative things and things that go wrong. You might want to look at only your successes. However there is a danger in only looking at positive things. If the failures are a signal for fundamental problems, then ignoring them may result in complete failure of all systems.
A third method is to sit down with your colleagues and make a list of all positive and negative elements and see if being disappointed is justified. Often you will find out, that there is no reason to be disappointed.
An advantage of this last approach is that you get a clear view of your situation and that you can be content. Your satisfaction can give you the energy to find out what caused some of the fiascos.

A few suggestions for a leader who is feeling disappointed:
  1. talk internally about your disappointment, because in the outside world you will not be understood;
  2. have a positive feeling, before you start looking at fiascos, because else you will feel disappointed afterwards;
  3. do not look at disappointments on your own. Do it with someone else, who can give the advantages of the fiascos (not the devils advocate, but his fool);
  4. research your disappointment, is it caused by:
  • internal reactions, or
  • are they from outside, or
  • is your personal situation a reason for disappointment?

Advise for Numico’s chairman
My advise to Jan Bennink of Numico is: stop being disappointed about the Dutch when everywhere else you are a succes. My compliments for the succes of Numico.

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