- by Jess Almlie

Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Sometimes even leaders get stuck. Here we are. Not moving. Paralyzed. Wondering what happened. We might make it look easy from the outside, but leadership is hard work. Poise and confidence can be great hiding places for the nagging question of, “What now?”

For me, stuck can happen when a choice just didn’t work out as planned, an attempt to solve a problem comes up embarrassingly short, or I try a technique that doesn’t hit the mark. The larger the event in question, the more stuck I feel. Failure is a word that may even come to mind. Now what?

Turns out, the “now what” moment is a critical crossroads. It is one that can separate the leaders from the rest of the pack. The “now what” moment offers us two options. 

We can choose to stay stuck. In the midst of a crushing type of blow to your ego, staying stuck can be somewhat attractive. It doesn’t take much effort and we might even save ourselves from future pain and difficulties. But then again, I’ve never known a pity party that was well attended.

The other option? Learning. This is the solvent that can dissolve the adhesive and allow you to move forward. Looking at the situation, those involved, and your role with a critical eye is how leaders pull away from the pack. Try this:

  1. Determine what worked.  It’s likely there were some pieces of the plan that were successful or still offer hope. What might those be? Keep them!
  2. Step back. As I’ve stated before, emotions aren’t exactly intelligent. Take a look at the situation as if it was a case study so that you remove the emotions from the picture. What do you see from this angle? What might need to be done differently?
  3. Ask questions. Look to a trusted mentor, those involved (if appropriate) or perhaps even other resources (online, books, etc). Ask what could be done differently, what they see, where the breakdown happened. Just make sure your questions are positive and genuine and don’t come across like blame or gossip.
  4. Personally reflect. Think about your role in the situation and what you can learn about your own leadership as a result.
  5. Communicate. It seems simple, but “seems” is a tricky word. Talk with others and by all means, don’t avoid conflict! Nothing gets better when a difficult situation is avoided or an elephant stays in the room. You may even want to try the curious approach.
  6. Apply what you learn and move on. Figure out why you were stuck and what you might be able to do differently. Even if the plan isn’t perfect, it’s better than staying stuck!

So, next time you are slapped in the face with an unexpected result, you feel like a failure, or you are just plain stuck, resist the urge to stay where you are. When the question, “now what” rises in your throat, resist the emotional pull and dig into your questions. Learn what you can, apply it, and move on. That’s what leaders do.

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