What to Do when you F*** it Up



Messing up is part

of Leadership

(It just isn't a fun way to learn.)

Espousing all of this professional development “best practices” is easy. 
Less easy? Living them. 

Being humbly reminded that real life if not as simple as a model, an assessment or tips and tricks.

I was recently on a team call.  We are a high-functioning team.  We care about each other personally and professionally.  I know it’s one of those golden moments in time when the right people with the right skills come together to create something beyond what each of us could do individually. 

So back to the call.  About 20 minutes into it, I get triggered. 

(Trigger.  Noun.  Something that causes extreme anxiety, anger and frustration.  Usually results in outbursts with little to no warning.)

Me when I’m triggered = no filter.  No diplomacy. Not effective. 

Some people claim to value my honesty.  I could easily hide behind that, but the reality is that this is not my most insightful opinion.  It is a pure reaction.  Sure there could be fragments of truth, but most of what I verbally vomit has little to no value. 

So in case you think I’m going to tie this up in some neat bow with some pithy lesson, I’m not.  The real world doesn’t work that way – it’s much messier than a model. 

I went on a run.  As the sun beat down on me and I felt the sweat pouring off of me, I waited for the cathartic moment when I would get one of those great insights reserved for running, driving or showering.  It didn’t happen.  I thought the self-flagellation would get exhausted along with my physical body. It didn’t. 

I talked to my mom.  She pointed out that I liked control and told me “well honey, if today is bad, then tomorrow might be worse.”  WTF, mom?  (Hmmm…I wonder if this is where I get my “unfiltered honesty”)

I wrote emails apologizing, trying to justify my rashness.  I mulled about the situation and tried to make other people wrong.  I fixed myself a cocktail over dinner and found some Island Music on Spotify.  (When in doubt, avoid with distractions, often involving cocktails.)

And isn’t that what we do?  Try to find something that makes the discomfort, embarrassment and regret disappear?  An email back that reassures us that it is ok?  That something we said sparked a different perspective. 

And yet, it is only by staying in the discomfort that we hold any hope of changing a pattern or behavior.  Instead of trying to avoid it, what if we could face it head-on.  Talk to a coach or a mentor and explore what we might have done differently. 

It is only in these practices that we hold any hope of changing the neural networks that keep us so stuck. 

So next time you f*** it up, try staying in the discomfort a beat longer.  As my mom so sagely asked, “Honey, what is this really about?”  Best. Coaching. Question. Ever. 

Stop trying to make it better.  It will go against every grain in your body.  Instead DIG INTO IT.  Journal.  Talk to someone you trust - a trusted friend, mentor, executive coach.  Wait.  Give it time to unravel.  Things will become clear if you give it some space.

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