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  • Kathleen Phelps

Leading When You “Don’t Have Your Act Together”

Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”—Richard Branson

It was a cold winter day in Boston. I was crossing the snow-covered business school campus, anticipating my first in-person session with a group of international executives.

As I entered the room, I received a panicked text message: “A rough, unformatted, trial email just went out to your top contacts.”

Deep breath… What now?

I reassured my office manager that it would be okay–while I wondered if it would be–then mentally, I put it down. I committed to being present to the waiting exec. ed. participants, and made sure that everyone in the room had the incredible experience that I knew was possible that evening.

After the session, we re-grouped. I was disappointed that the email introduction had not gone as planned, but I knew immediately that the experience would be perfect to share in a blog post. Though we all want to be perceived as ‘looking good’ and ‘having our acts together’, occasionally we make mistakes.

In the Forbes article, “5 Things Failure Teaches You About Leadership”, Glen Llopis discusses several ways we can choose to approach our mistakes.

1. “Confront Your Failure and Learn from It.” The first thought that came to mind when I learned about the email mishap was ‘it’s not what happened, it is how we recover.” I may have had a different response in the past, but I’ve learned a few things from my clients over the years!

2. “Build Your Team and Make the Business Better.” This was not only a test of my image with my clients and colleagues, but also of my new relationship with Kathleen. We just started working together and she is smart, committed, and fun. Overreacting could have damaged our burgeoning partnership and would have made us both feel worse.

3. “Trust Your Gut and Make More Decisions.” The good news is that we quickly pulled together a great-looking communication piece. It was even better than I had envisioned and we put it out sooner than we had originally planned.

4. “Second Chances are All Around You”. Keeping this in perspective was helpful. It was a crummy-looking email. No one was hurt. There was no financial loss (that I know of yet!).  I received some thoughtful messages kindly letting me know that the email “didn’t look quite right”. And I learned that the people who like and respect you, like and respect you. They are willing to give you a pass.

5. “Appreciate Your Leadership Responsibilities”. I heard a great re-frame recently. Instead of I have to, I get to. I don’t have to write a blog post or communicate with clients and colleagues. I get to. I have an incredible job working with clients who inspire me, and I get to communicate with people I care about. And I choose to be grateful for all of it.

I hope not to have a similar ‘fail’ anytime soon, but if I do, I know I will survive—and maybe even thrive.

How do you lead when you “don’t have your act together”?


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