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How true leaders manage disappointment

5 min read

As the owner and leader of your business, you may find yourself facing the year-end with a mixture of thoughts and feelings: excitement, hope, joy—and maybe some disappointment.

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Every year at this time, our clients are focused on the year ahead, preparing their 2020 plans and setting goals they know they can achieve. But a big part of thinking forward is looking back. To set new goals, you need to be honest about whether or not you’ll be able to achieve your year-end revenue targets this year. And what if you won’t? Recognizing that you haven’t met your goals at the same time that you’re preparing for upcoming holiday celebrations and vacation time is a lot to hold as a leader. You’ll no doubt be disappointed and frustrated with yourself and/or your people—and maybe even a little afraid to join your team in celebrating or step away from your business for the holidays.

If this sounds like what you’re feeling, you’re not alone. The holiday season can be a particularly hard time to be a business owner. You may feel incredible pressure to lead your team despite the disappointment you feel, to celebrate them and their hard work, to show up in an inspirational way when you’re having a hard time feeling inspired yourself. But the truth is, this difficult leadership moment is also one of the most important. Because at the end of the day, no matter what struggles you might have with your team, they're looking to you as their leader. That’s the first thing they need you to be.

So I’d like to offer some perspective and a few points to reflect on that may help you and your team feel differently about the end of the year and celebrate together. 

Recognize the silver lining of missed goals

I know this may be a tough pill to swallow, but there’s value in missing set targets. Even though you came up short, you’ve now started the critical process of baselining your business.

And now that you have a baseline, ask yourself: How did I set these goals? Were they based on realistic projections, were they “stretch goals,” or were they wishful thinking? If they came from the air, keep them there and get real. You now have a year’s worth of data that you’ve been paying attention to more strategically—data you wouldn’t have been paying attention to if you hadn’t set the goal in the first place. So take this year’s data and make a more sound projection for next year. If you use it as a “lessons learned” exercise, you gain valuable insights to share with your team.

As you move forward, consider setting goals that roll, instead of fixed goals that count down to the year-end. At EMyth, we create a set of 6–8 key target results we want to achieve for the year and then develop SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals for the first two quarters. We’ve learned that we can’t see any further down the road than that, and it’s important to be able to pivot along the way. After the first two quarters, we have a mid-year checkpoint meeting where we reevaluate what’s working and whether we’re on track, and adjust our goals or reset our priorities.

Don’t overlook intangible goals—they’re valuable

Most businesses set goals around increased sales, revenues, profits, customer acquisition and other tangibles that give one picture of a company’s success. And yes, these are the goals that keep the lights on in your business, but they aren’t everything that makes your business what it is, nor are they necessarily the goals that are most important to you

So, when looking back on what you’ve achieved this year (and planning your targets for the next), don’t forget about these intangibles. Team engagement and collaboration, your customer experience, systematization and process improvement—all of these things are valuable achievements. And while they may be harder to track and measure, you’ll see their impact in how they free you, the owner, and give you a business that’s less dependent on you to operate. Most importantly, these intangibles are the heart of your business because they’re really about what resonates with you and the way you want your values to translate throughout every part of your company.

As an example, one Coach recently shared with me his client’s frustration with not hitting her revenue target. At first, his client felt like she was ending the year at a loss because her business didn’t grow in revenues. But she did grow in profit! In addition to that, she experienced growth in improving her management system, despite some big changes and restructuring. So even though she didn’t hit the bottom line in the way she’d planned to, her team learned and accomplished a lot that can help them fine-tune their systems and be in a better position next year. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Consider what you learned about leadership

I know it can be tough to look at it this way, but disappointment offers an incredible opportunity—perhaps one of the best opportunities—to learn something about yourself as a leader.

For example, maybe you set sales goals your team didn’t hit this year. It’s easy to jump to the assumption that your salespeople are the problem. But before you do that, ask yourself: Did I have a vision for sales production this year? Did I communicate that vision to my team? Did I collaborate with my department heads around how that vision would manifest in their departments and how they would set and manage goals? Did I check in on and reevaluate those goals frequently? 

Being a good leader means being transparent and building a culture where the vision—your vision—is held by all, a culture where you can trust and share information with your people and hold company goals together. If not, you’re on an island and your team is unprepared. You’ll hold so much yourself and keep your employees at a distance until things go wrong. And when you do tell them you haven’t met your goals for the year, they’ll be blindsided. If instead you find a way to talk about goals more routinely and send the message that “we’re all in this together,” you will be—and your goals will resonate with your people more deeply.

So what’s your year-end vision for 2020? Share this with your team now and give them a chance to bring their experiences and suggestions to help you shape it. If you start building that plan with your people, they’ll feel attached to a bigger purpose and meaning about how they contribute. And you can start to create a different kind of engagement with your team, one that actually gets you where you want to be this time next year.

Best of luck as you head into your year-end celebrations. Taking the time to commend your team (and yourself) for work well done will not only end the year on a note of gratitude, it will set the tone for success in 2020.

Do you have any other end-of-year thoughts for fellow business owners? I’d love to hear them. Please share in the comments below.

Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia Huebner is EMyth's VP of Coaching Emeritus. As one of the leading experts in all facets of the EMyth Approach, her 20 years of experience at EMyth included leadership roles in program development, coaching, coach training and marketing. Tricia’s commitment to helping business owners came from her own upbringing in a family of small business owners. In her time as a speaker and trainer, she addressed business audiences throughout the U.S., and internationally in Canada, Europe and Africa. Throughout her career, Tricia designed programs for the Small Business Administration and consulted with Fortune 1000 companies, and personally coached more than 200 small and mid-sized businesses, helping owners create businesses they love leading and lives they love living. She retired from EMyth in 2022 to pursue her own business within the wine industry.