Written by Kristin Harrington

I was tapped to lead a big project that involved several colleagues. With little experience on the subject matter, it was outside of my comfort zone, and admittedly, it scared the heck out of me. The control freak in me likes to know I’m good at something before I commit to doing it. So naturally, I spent the first day panicking a bit before jumping in head-first to move the work forward.

We worked on the project for weeks, and when the deadline arrived, I felt confident in our submission, and we congratulated each other on a job well done. A few hours later, we received a less-than-stellar email response. The word “disappointing” stood out the most from the first few sentences. Ouch.

My first response was to take it personally. Did they know how hard we had worked? Did they care how much time and effort had been devoted to it?

My next response was to blame. Why hadn’t they been clearer on the expectations? 

After a few hours passed, my third (and best) response was to accept ownership and move toward solving the problem. What had I missed in leading the project? What do I need to do differently to meet the expectations? How did my lack of knowledge on the subject negatively contribute to the outcomes?

From this exchange, I learned a few big leadership takeaways:

Don’t take it personally; it’s likely not. When critical feedback comes your way, fight the urge to take it personally. Zero in on the quality of the work and keep your ego in check instead of jumping to conclusions about potential personal conflicts. Often the situation has little (if anything) to do with you as a person. Likely, the feedback is simply an effort to improve the overall result.

Get to an objective place. The quicker you can view things objectively, the more likely you are to respond than to react. Reactions often create harm. Conversely, responsive actions create opportunities. In moments of tense feedback, strive to remain as objective as possible to maximize your ability to respond. Set your emotions aside and problem-solve from a neutral place.

Understand the expectations of others and work to meet them. When thrown into the new or unknown, take the time up-front to understand expectations so you can better align the team’s efforts to meet them. A bias for action is great as long as it’s grounded in consideration of the bigger picture and a shared (and clearly communicated) vision for the “win.”

We often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Have you had a recent “failure” with an accompanying lesson to learn? Send us your story! Let’s learn from each other’s missteps and grow as a community.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.