"In my experience as a senior executive in the competitive and fast-paced sporting goods industry, I have seen my share of good leaders.

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You Live, You Learn: 5 Ways to Turn Setbacks into Comebacks

Exceptional leaders can weather any storm because they share a key outlook when it comes to challenges and setbacks. While some see only the difficulty, the so-called “wasted” time and the additional effort requirements, a true leader perceives these moments of hardship as learning experiences. When you truly learn from mistakes, you grow and improve as an individual and as an organization instead of repeating the past. Follow these tips to help change your perspective from setbacks to comebacks.

1. Acknowledge Successes Big and Small

First, let’s make it abundantly clear: perfection does not exist. Do not strive for perfection – it creates unnecessary tensions and causes burnout. Instead, strive for your business to be the best that it can be (imperfect and all) and commit to lifelong learning and constant improvement.

Analyze your setback: Were you aiming for perfection, or is there a real challenge to overcome? Furthermore, regardless of the difficulties or failures, always give credit when credit is due: pat yourself on the back, praise an employee: Acknowledging small achievements boosts morale and motivation and can even present interesting alternative solutions for your organization’s toughest problems.

2. Don’t Be Harshly Critical

As a leader, you will face the major errors by your staff and be responsible for the repercussions. While you may be disappointed, frustrated or downright upset, you must maintain a professional, positive demeanor. Constructive criticism helps employees improve; harshness only hurts feelings, and often distracts from the work that needs to be done. Your outlook affects your words and actions, and vice versa, so don’t allow your inner dialogue, nor your outer dialogue, to stray into severities.  

3. Embody the Three “Tics”

Replace harsh feelings or words by being Pragmatic, Sympathetic and Enthusiastic. Use pragmatism to look at the setback from a logical rather than emotional perspective, and focus on what is under your control to improve or change. Next, be sympathetic: Whether the whole organization is feeling demotivated or whether one employee is shouldering all the guilt and stress, connect on a human level and remind yourself that unintentional mistakes are part of life.

Finally, be enthusiastic and motivated to find and implement solutions. Your leadership can affect everyone’s outlook, so make sure your staff sees that you are moving forward toward a solution rather than dwelling on the negative.

4. Choose Your Words Carefully

Like an amazing PR team, your job as a leader is to put a positive spin on even the worst situations. Your words and actions can make all the difference, so take the time to collect your thoughts, rein in your emotions and craft an honest but positive message for your team that clearly tells staff where to focus: on finding solutions rather than casting blame. 

5. Approach Every Situation With a Blank Slate

Over your career, you’re bound to encounter more than one setback. Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for the challenges of the modern workplace. A tactic that worked for one scenario might be totally inappropriate for another. 

Try your best to put aside other concerns or past problems and focus on the issue athand. Keep an open mind to explore all possible options rather than feeling boxed in by solutions from other scenarios.

 Turning a setback into a comeback is easier said than done. When faced with our toughest challenges, it’s tempting to think, “Nobody could turn this situation around” – but that simply isn’t true. The best leaders can find a positive spin for every problem, handle it with tact, and learn from it – and these lessons can serve you well throughout your life and career. 

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Julie Nimmons

Julie Nimmons

Julie uses her 30 years’ experience to help CEOs, executives and business owners in her Vistage Group find success in their businesses and personal lives. With positive leadership, a firm sense of prioritization and the commitment to lifelong learning, Julie’s creates a constructive workspace for Group members where honesty, innovation and cooperation can flourish.