Entrepreneurs

The Difference Between Brick Walls and Setbacks — And How to Overcome the Latter


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The automotive industry is no stranger to roadblocks, and the pandemic has offered plenty of unexpected surprises.

Automaker Rivian is one of many companies in the space pushing back product releases and deliveries. The company recently announced it was delaying deliveries of the highly anticipated R1T electric pickup truck and R1S SUV due to “cascading impacts of the pandemic” — especially those related to the global shortage of semiconductor microchips. Even industry titans such as GM are pivoting their product strategies, with some going so far as to remove features like wireless phone charging (which requires semiconductor chips) from certain vehicles.

When setbacks such as this happen — particularly when they are out of a company’s control — negative energy can surge. It’s human nature to be disappointed when plans go awry.

But like most things in life, setbacks are only a matter of perspective. What looks to one person like a brick wall could be a jumping-off point to someone else. After all, we have to truly feel the pain of loss or disappointment to grow and change.

The more you can take stock of setbacks and determine the damage, the better you’ll be able to inform your choices moving forward and motivate your team. The key is to assess the situation, understand the pieces you can control and then work through the obstacle.

Related: Why True Entrepreneurs View Setbacks as Opportunities

Distinguishing between a setback and brick wall

While all failed plans might initially seem like brick walls, there is a marked difference between walls and setbacks. A client changing their mind about a strategy at the last minute would be a setback — not a reason to say, “I’m done.” You would simply pivot with the client and work to understand their goals and manage their expectations.

On the other hand, losing all of your accounts and having your business fail entirely would be a brick wall. In that case, it’s too late for persistence. When this happens, you have an opportunity to learn from failure and take charge of any next steps.

The ability to distinguish between setbacks and brick walls is vital for success. Just as a doctor has to run tests to diagnose an illness before prescribing medicine, you have to identify the problem before implementing a solution for your company.

But how can you do this? Here are four ways to overcome setbacks and avoid brick walls.

1. Let your team feel their feelings — and then move on

When plans fall through, it’s natural to be frustrated and angry. But when employees are disappointed, they need to feel heard before they can move past the failure. This has real implications — employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.

A few years ago, we had a leader completely change our course at the last minute before a key executive meeting. We had worked for months on a communication launch, but the strategy and the desired outcome changed and caused a major last-minute shift. I told my team members they had one night to feel disappointed and frustrated, but we had to move on the next day and focus our energy on creating a new plan.

Related: What Makes a Business Agile? And How Can You Achieve It?

2. Control the controllable

You can set a great example by focusing on what comes next and looking forward. As Stephen Covey wrote, most people spend too much time and energy focusing on their circle of concern rather than their circle of influence. The more you and your team can do to focus on the things you can control — constantly asking “What can I do?” — the more productive you will be.

If an unknown outside candidate becomes your new boss instead of the internal director you hoped would get the role, get to “What can I do?” Set aside time to learn more about the new leader’s priorities and how you can help their success. Spend energy on what you can control.

When Covid-19 hit, Airbnb couldn’t control the drastic decrease in travel — but it could help hosts financially by connecting with guests and offering more dynamic travel experiences. It let hosts offer online events and resources for travelers before their trips, including cooking and songwriting classes, virtual tours and more.

3. Vocalize successes

Even if you didn’t achieve success, share with your team what did work before heading straight to the problem. It’s easy to say, “I didn’t have a good enough prototype” or “I should have secured leadership buy-in before moving forward.” But it’s equally important to identify what worked well so you can build on those successes in the next iteration of your project.

Sharing small successes helps motivate teams and keep them engaged when a new plan is necessary. About 47 percent of job-seeking employees cite poor company culture as their reason for leaving a position — making support and recognition even more critical in challenging times. 

Related: 5 Ways to Celebrate Small Wins on Your Way to World Domination

4. Find the correct course

Once you’ve identified what worked well, figure out why you faced a setback. Focus on facts rather than feelings. Why was funding canceled? What made the key sponsor show limited support? Why didn’t we reach our first-quarter sales targets?

These questions will help identify the root causes of your setback so you can course-correct in the next phase of your project. You’ll also be better equipped to coach your team through success the next time around. With CEOs citing innovation and new technologies as top drivers of success in the next 12 months, teams must be able to adapt and regroup quickly.

When you face obstacles as a leader — and you will — you have to dig deep, identify challenges and work with your team to control what you can control. By guiding your team through any disappointments, you can become a more effective leader and keep setbacks from becoming roadblocks. Learn, regroup and find the path to progress.

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