You are having a bad day. The kind that ranks up there as one of the worst.
So, here’s my question. What do you do next?
Holding on to Our Bad Day
I can’t count the number of restless nights I’ve had rehashing the things that went wrong during the day. Replaying conversations over and over thinking about what I should have said or could have done to respond differently. The situation was over, yet I was still tossing and turning as if I could go back in time and get a do-over.
Is that what we really want? To get a do-over on a bad situation that is already resolved, knowing that the second time around probably wouldn’t lead to any significant changes in the final outcome?
And what do we get for obsessing over it? We wake up the next morning tired, preoccupied, and off our game for the day ahead.
What is it that causes us to hang on to the past? What if we could learn to recognize when something is over and just let it go? That would make us better leaders. We could start each day fresh and energized, with the wisdom of the past, but without its baggage.
“Don’t look back unless you’re planning to go that way.” Henry David Thoreau
Why We Get Stuck on Our Bad Day
Let’s start with why we hold on to these frustrating moments. We need to understand the cause before we can talk solutions.
In public, leaders are confident and decisive. But under that, we are still human. At times we can be plagued by old insecurities that cause us to question ourselves. We need to let go of our doubts and believe in ourselves.
Leaders tend to believe that they have to be perfect. In our quest to be perfect we can over-analyze our actions. We need to let go of this unrealistic quest and focusing on doing the very best we can.
When we compare ourselves to others, it can limit our ability to think critically and creatively. Maybe someone else would have handled things differently, but it wasn’t someone else who had to handle things in that moment. We need to let go of what ifs and take ownership for what has been done.
Sometimes we focus so much on controlling the situation, that we think we can control the other people involved, their reactions, and the outcomes. This is not possible. We can’t control others, only ourselves and our own actions. The actions that others choose to take is something we need to let go.
Now that we’ve cleared up some of the key reasons we try to hold onto past events, let’s move forward with techniques for, well, moving forward.
“Let go. You can only lose what you cling to.” Buddha
Moving on from our Bad Day Strategies
There are a few strategies you can use to help you learn to let things go, without losing the lessons that a momentary crisis may have taught you.
Know Your Cause.
Be aware of what is causing you to hold on and make a conscious decision to let go. Is it self-doubt, perfectionism, comparisons, or control? Recognizing why we hold onto something and acknowledging that it is not something that will help us in the future, allows us to break free.
You can’t go it alone and be successful. Sure, the main character Jack from the Titanic movie shouted, “I am king of the world!”. And how did that turn out for him? He died. If you want to endure you need a team. Just as the musical group Queen has endured with their song, “We are the champions of the world!”. Team effort, team success.
Hire great people who have expertise that you don’t. You don’t have to do everything yourself and you don’t have to control everything that others do. Hire the best and exhibit trust by delegating some of your responsibilities to them. Instead of thinking you have to make all the decisions yourself, let go and allow others to be autonomous in their expertise area.
Get a Mentor.
Mentors and coaches can be invaluable resources in helping you sort through the things that are holding you back and instilling you with the skills and attitudes you need to let go and forge ahead. Asking for guidance can be a sign of strength when pursued from a perspective of personal growth and idea exploration rather than one that simply seeks to be handed an answer.
Putting It All Together
The more negative events from the past we hold to and the more baggage we carry along with us, the less effective we can be as a leader. Leaders need to be forward thinking and innovative. You can’t focus on the road ahead while looking in the rear-view mirror. Yes, we need to understand where we’ve been and how we got to where we are, but if we spend all our time watching the instant replay, we can’t ever finish the game.
Sometimes we just have to be glad that our bad day is over and look towards a fresh start. Begin by the realization that it probably wasn’t even the whole day that was bad. It was probably just a moment in the day. A 15-minute crisis and then we let those negative emotions rule the rest of our day. Getting perspective on the negative incident is not easy to do, but that is the job of a leader. Leaders don’t live in the past. They use the choices and opportunities here in the present to drive towards the future.
Are you driving towards something new or are your eyes glued to the past? Leaders not only have to be able to let go and move forward themselves, they must be prepared to help their employees do that as well. Leadership is a responsibility. One of those responsibilities is the awareness to know when something is over, and it is time to let go and move on. Your team will look to you to see how that is done. If you can’t let things go, you can’t expect your employees to. You must set the example. You must let go in order to lead.
Revised June 2022. Originally published under The OD Pro in February 2020.