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3 Things Successful Leaders Keep In Mind Even When Things Go Wrong

3 Things Successful Leaders Keep In Mind Even When Things Go Wrong

Nobody has a Midas touch. Even successful leaders and great teams have bad days. That is just the way it works. Sometimes things go wrong because of unforeseeable circumstances and sometimes things happen because someone in the team made a mistake.

Whatever the reason, the extent of the negative impact caused by such bad times is heavily influenced by how the leaders reacts to what happened. Successful leaders know that their team members places a lot of importance on what they say during testing times. They also know that team members place an even higher level of importance on how leaders say what they say – their body language, level of stress, tone of voice and other subtle cues mean a lot.

Here are three things successful leaders keep in mind during such situations:

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1. Successful leaders know they have to bring calm and confidence

When things go wrong, not everyone reacts the same. Those that lose their calm or those that panic can set a bad precedent for those that are on the edge. When issues are left unaddressed, a team can tend to focus on the negative – so much so, that the project comes to a standstill.

Successful leaders arrest the slide quickly by bringing calm and confidence to the team.

With their experience, they can make a quick impact analysis of the damage. Since they have the trust of team members with influence, they bring the group together and get their buy-in on the next immediate steps. Once the core team members are calm and confident the rest of the team follows suit.

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For more information about presenting a calm and confident manner, see this article.

2. Successful leaders know to shift the focus on what’s next

When things go wrong, spending an unreasonable amount of time on forensic analysis is time unproductively spent- the team could be focused on recovering from the problem. Every minute counts. Good leaders know that if they let things get out of hand, they will turn the issue into a bigger crisis as projects that depended on the current problematic project being completed start to slip.

Successful leaders know that the right thing to do is to focus on what to do next, using whatever resources are available at their disposal.

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Analysis needs to be done in parallel with this action, or postponed to a time after the current project is back on track.

3. Successful leaders bring their learning from these experiences to future projects

Failures, crises, mishaps and other such events, teach a lot of lessons. Leaders know that it’s easy to blame someone or something else and move on. That would be a colossal waste, of course. Successful leaders reflect on what happened, what lessons are to be learned from what happened and how not to repeat the same mistakes next time around.

Even when things went wrong due to things outside of their control, they think about how to factor in such risks and account for them in their planning for future projects.

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Bonus Item:

4. Successful leaders remember to refine their assumptions next time around

One of the major below-the-surface reasons for things going wrong is the presence of faulty assumptions to start with. Either the leader or an influential team member made one or more assumptions that didn’t turn out the way they wished.

When things go wrong, successful leaders go back to the drawing board and think about what assumptions were made and why they turned out to be faulty. Revisiting the assumptions will help them to refine their judgments when they are working on future projects.

Remember:

A rising tide lifts every boat. When things are going well, even mediocre leaders can come across as rock stars.  When things go wrong, every leader gets tested and the successful leaders stand out from the pack based on how they react and get their teams back on track.

Featured photo credit: Steve Wilson via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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