Overcoming Setbacks as a Leader


Life as a leader isn’t always easy. Despite the perception that some have of leaders living a glamourous life where things always go right, it doesn’t work like that. As a leader, you’re going to face setbacks, challenges, and obstacles on your way to success. It’s not about “if”, simply a matter of “when”. But don’t let that discourage you. Instead of giving in to the fear of these setbacks, it’s important to learn how to overcome obstacles as a leader.

1. Learn to let it go

Failures and setbacks don’t need to be the end of you. While it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion that comes along with setbacks, you need to learn how to do the exact opposite. Remember the Disney movie Frozen? As a mom to three daughters, I watched it a lot. And we had the soundtrack which we listened to on repeat. If you have children or grandchildren then you’re probably familiar with the song Let It Go.

Honestly, even if you don’t have kids, you probably know the song. There’s a great lesson for leaders within the lyrics:

“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through”

In the story, Elsa experienced a major setback when as a child she accidentally used her ice powers and hurt her little sister. During the movie, she begins to learn how to not hide her power and use them and control them instead. You can think the same way as you learn to overcome setbacks as a leader.

It may feel like a big deal in the moment, but if you let fear set in as a result of the setback, it’s easy to get stuck in it. If you want to keep moving forward, you need to learn how to let go and move forward.

2. Stick with it

Is it easier to throw in the towel when you face a setback… sometimes. Is it the way to continue to improve and grow as a leader? No.

You need to learn to continue pursuing growth and your goals even when you experience a setback. Remember, achieving big goals doesn’t usually happen in giant leaps and bounds. Instead, it’s through taking small but consistent steps forward. If you have a setback, don’t let it knock you off the path. It may slow your progress, but it doesn’t need to deter it altogether.

3. Take advice from others

Pride can be a dangerous thing to have as a leader. When you experience a setback, your pride might start to get in the way. This can stop you from admitting that you had a setback and seeking advice from people who can help you correct it and move forward.

Be willing to share your struggle with someone who is ahead of you on the journey. Then be humble enough to listen to what they have to say. If you think that you always know better or don’t want to “look stupid” then you’re going to make overcoming setbacks a lot harder on yourself.

4. Look for the lesson

There are lessons in every setback that we face as leaders. However, it’s easy to overlook the lesson when you’re caught up in feeling bad about experiencing the setback or trying to figure out how to move forward. This is a mistake.

When you take the time to identify the lessons in your experience it helps you avoid experiencing those same setbacks in the future. Take the pandemic for example. When the world seemed to shut down, there were a lot of lessons for leaders to learn. It was a huge setback and leaders had to learn how to pivot in order to stay afloat.

But there’s a difference between making the adjustments that you need to in the moment and learning the real lessons from the setback. If you only make the adjustment in the moment, but don’t look at what you need to learn from the experience long-term, you’re likely to end up in the same place again in the future.

5. Share your experience with others

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be bringing up those under your leadership. That means instead of trying to hide your setbacks and act like they didn’t happen, you need to embrace them and share them. Yes, it’s a lot more comfortable to keep your setbacks quiet so others keep you on the pedestal. But that’s not what being a leader is all about.

Use your setbacks as examples to help others continue their growth and development. Share your experience and what you did to overcome it.

Ready to overcome your setbacks?

If you’re feeling convicted from reading this, we encourage you to identify actionable steps that can help you move forward from where you are now. If you have a business coach, like our SPEARity coaches, be honest with them about your setbacks. Only then will you be able to experience the true benefits of working with a coach.

If you don’t have a business coach but are ready to overcome your setbacks, reach out to a SPEARity business coach today. We specialize in leadership development and are ready to help you overcome your obstacles.

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