You know what no one ever tells you about being a manager? They don’t tell you that sometimes it’s really embarrassing. As a leader, you spend a lot of time encouraging people to do their best, to push themselves, to develop and learn and grow. But learning and growth comes with risks. Sometimes you screw up.

And if you’re the team leader, odds are that bad day is going to be very visible. So what do you do when you have a day where everything goes wrong? What happens when you’re the one in the hot seat? When a client blows up at you? Or when you don’t hit your targets. Here are some things to consider when things don’t go as planned:

  1. Be Human: We all have tough days. Don’t hide that you’re disappointed. Don’t try to pretend nothing is happening or that it doesn’t bother you at all. It’s ok to have feelings and to show that you care, but you also need to keep your emotions under control and stay professional.
  2. Keep Your Cool: Don’t blow your stack. If you need to, step out of the office until you settle yourself down. Your team will look to you to see how you respond to a tough situation, and they are going to expect you to walk the talk. If you want to build credibility, you’re going to need to keep a lid on your emotions.
  3. Be Professional: You know you want to draft a flaming email back to that client or swagger in to your boss’s office with your resignation letter in hand, but that’s probably not going to help. Stay professional. You’ll be glad you did tomorrow.
  4. Regroup and Make a Plan: OK, you’ve had your pity party and now it’s time to get back on track. Sit down and take a hard look at what happened, and what you could have done differently. Be prepared to do a debrief, for your own sake even if no one else is asking for it, and then find a way to learn and move forward.

If you have one, this is a great time to reach out to a mentor or coach and ask for feedback or advice on how to handle the situation. Sure you can call your friends and they will tell you how unfair it was and how it’s not your fault. But if you really want to grow beyond this situation, it helps to have an objective perspective on how you could have done something differently so that next time you’ll get it right.

Being under the gun is no fun. It happens to us all at some point. Stay cool and professional, and you’ll be back on track in no time, with a team that values your leadership more because they’ve seen you push through a rough patch.


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