Leadership: Dealing With Disappointment


I really value people who work hard and smart. I love to reward them. One way I reward them, being that I work with a lot of volunteers, is through Linkedin. When I work with someone who always delivers on what they say, and their deliverable is excellent, I make it a point to post a recommendation. If you’ve worked with me, you may have received, or will receive one of these.

So, when things are going well, positive reinforcement is key, but my question is, how do you motivate someone to do better when they’re doing less than perfect work? In other words, I’m trying to think of ways to manage disappointment without demotivating my team.

At a recent event, a successful entrepreneur said he can’t say that his company is doing anything excellent right now. I’ll keep him anonymous and call him Mayson because he said that he wouldn’t usually say that in public. I understand why: he is less than excited about his companies combined work, but saying that would only hurt the motivation of his team.

From an outside perspective, Mason’s company is killing it, but through his perfectionist eyes, nothing is going as well as it could. I relate to him a lot. I run or help run a couple clubs on campus, I’m launching a startup, and I volunteer a good amount of time at my church. In each of these endeavors I find myself in a leadership position with the challenge of motivating people to do stuff for free. So, after hearing Mason express his feelings, I decided to figure out a way to manage the disappointment of imperfection while still inspiring people to work harder and smarter than they ever have.

I came up with what I call the 4 steps of accountability:

1. Define clear expectations at the outset.

This could take some time and planning, but if your team doesn’t know what is expected of them, it is really hard to perform. These expectations don’t have to be a strict job description, this is rarely possible in a startup, but they do need to outline the culture and values you expect from people. Think of this as your pre-emptive strike on low performance.

Hopefully you won’t need step two, but inevitably disappointment will come and one of your volunteers, employees, or teams with drop the ball. If so, do this first:

2. Make sure that everything is alright with the person or team and ask if there is anything you can do to help.

Sometimes life happens! Despite a person’s best efforts, the failure may have been outside of their control. It is too easy to jump the gun and come down on someone who had no control over the outcome. In addition, many times problems come from process not people. In other words, the failure could have been caused by management or a lack of resources.

If we don’t first “seek to understand,” in the words of Steven R Covey, then we risk demoralizing and demotivating those we lead. Remember that leadership is all about the individual. If people think you don’t care about them, you’ve got bigger problems than motivation.

So what if the disappointments continue?

3. Let them know that you noticed the failure and together create a plan to fix the situation together.

At this point I’m usually frustrated; however, getting angry isn’t going to help anyone. In the past, I’ve just been tempted to let a couple shortcomings slide. Not good. In addition to knowing that you care, people need be accountable. Hopefully this step allows us to accomplish both of those things in a non-threatening way.

If it happens again?

4. Let them know that if something doesn’t change, you’ll have to make a change.

I love the line from Princess Bride, “Life isn’t fair, anyone who tells you different is either lying or selling something.” This step seems harsh, but if you let too much slide, you’ll ruin your own reputation.

5. Make a change.

I’m interested to hear if you agree or disagree with these steps of accountability. Email me at mail [at] benbuie [dot] com.

About The Author

Ben currently works as a senior developer and technical business consultant outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Read more about Ben

About Buink

Buink Web Development is a development shop founded in 2009 by Ben Buie. For years, Ben built and modified web assets for clients in Utah. In 2011, he moved the company to Colorado and in 2015 he started taking on new clients full-time.

Buink’s Core Values:

  • Cost effective technology (with business strategy in mind)
  • Eloquent, maintainable code
  • Responsive and transparent communication

Read more about Buink

Dave G.
Dave G.
14:05 13 Aug 23
Buink is a great place to work, as well as a great place to have quality software written. I originally contracted Buink for some web development, and it worked out so well we began working together on many different projects. Definitely an honest transparent company that needs to be considered for... your software needs.read more
Dru M.
Dru M.
15:41 25 Mar 21
Ben’s a super responsive, thoughtful, sharp and all around great guy to work with. Excellent with his trade. I’d recommend him to anyone. Thanks Ben!
Seth L.
Seth L.
21:36 29 Jun 19
Ben and team are incredible to work with. They are reliable and proficient. I'd highly recommend hiring them for web development work. SethVOLTAGE
Craig A.
Craig A.
20:50 18 Jun 19
It was a pleasure to work with Ben and his team. It is rare to find such attention to high standards of coding and devops.
Lexi S.
Lexi S.
15:36 18 Jun 19
Grateful to have Ben and his team as such a capable, reliable partner for completing client work!
Tom S.
Tom S.
13:18 14 Jun 19
I reached out to Buink after finding Ben’s name in a local developer/consultant listing in 2017, and I have to say, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with Buink. Ben consistently understands not just the development task laid in front of him but the business application behind the task. I’ve... never felt more comfortable with a development team than I do with Buink. I truly feel Ben and his team are integral partners in the success of my business.read more
Marilyn F.
Marilyn F.
22:47 13 May 19
I could not recommend Buink Web Development more highly. Ben and his team have recently developed a budgeting app for me (both web and IOS). I have had the opportunity of working with them for over a year and I am extremely happy with the results.I would say that the biggest plus for me is that I... trust Ben completely. From the very first, Ben has helped me make decisions that were in the best interest of my company. I have never felt like he is taking advantage of me. Ben does his best to keep the whole process very open and upfront. I have really appreciated that.I tell people all the time that I love my developers. And I do. I'm very happy that I chose to use Buink to develop my apps. It was the best business decision I could have made.If you are looking for someone to develop a website or app, I strongly suggest choosing Buink Web Development. They are fantastic!Marilyn Ference, President, Defend Your Money, LLCread more
James Landon B.
James Landon B.
01:33 28 Aug 18
Great company to help with all your web design needs!
Next Reviews

Connect with Buink

Connect with Buink via email, send us a message, or subscribe to our blog.