Leaders will experience disappointment. Disappointment happens when expectations or hopes go unmet. There may be an unreached goal. There may be an employee or team member who lets you down. You may not get the plumb assignment or role you had hoped for. Unforeseen road blocks or obstacles arise to threaten your plans. The real danger of disappointment is that it can lead to dismay. And that emotion can be paralyzing. There is no way to avoid disappointment. What is important is how we deal with this impostor and not lose courage. It’s only Tuesday and I have already experienced some disappointment, and likely you have too. Here is what I observed from my own dealings with disappointment.
1. Disappointment can sap us of our emotional energy. When I am first confronted with disappointment, I immediately lose some energy. It is natural. You give yourself to something or someone and your expectations are not met. You have invested your time and talent towards this endeavor and now hope of a good result has been stolen. That is an easy occasion for disappointment and the loss of your emotional edge. Sometimes it is hard to recover that depletion. It is difficult to lead well out of a depletion of emotional energy.
2. Disappointment can cause us to lose perspective. If I allow disappointment to linger, to lean towards dismay, then I also begin to lose perspective on the situation at hand. It becomes all bad. It no longer becomes a problem to confront or an obstacle to be overcome, it becomes the impossible monster that will surely win. Fear replaces courage. Fear replaces faith. Often, associates or team members can become the enemy. At that moment, I have lost perspective. Perspective is the lens we look through to assess a person or situation correctly. It is our mental picture of what is real and what can be. If we lose that lens it is difficult to lead well.
3. Disappointment can mean we miss the opportunity. Ultimately, this negative emotion can lead us toward missed opportunities. The opportunity may be how we are able to overcome the unmet expectation or lost hope. The opportunity may be a whole new alternative that is better than what we lost. Little good comes from leadership paralysis. And that is where unchecked disappointment will take us. As leaders, we have to see the opportunities in the midst of unmet expectations or lost hope so that we can lead people beyond their current circumstances and move toward the vision.
So, how do we do this? How do we move past regular disappointments? First, I think it takes honesty. We have to name our disappointment and see it for what it truly is. Usually, this will bring the cause of disappointment down to size. Our tendency it to feed our disappointments and let them grow beyond their true identity. Second, we need community. We need others around us who will act as hope-giving sounding boards to keep us from our downward spirals. This may be a group of peer leaders. This may be one good friend who is committed to speaking truth to you. Third, we need a sure character foundation that does not take success or disappointment personally and which allows us to re-imagine a different future. For me, this character foundation is found in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I know no other solution for my selfishness, emotional blindness, and fragile soul. Even today, I was reading the Bible in the book of John, chapter 14, verse one, these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” These are the words of Jesus who experienced every emotion but fulfilled his mission of going to the cross to overcome our sin and brokenness. He is the one who can rescue me from the danger of disappointment.