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Wednesday, November 08, 2020

When Sh*t Happens


Things go wrong all the time. You may produce an amazing, killer plan, and follow it to the letter. Then some totally unforeseen event comes along and wrecks everything at the last moment. You prepare a brilliant presentation, but the meeting is running late and your one-hour slot is cut to five minutes (including time for questions). Your best customer is run over by a drunk driver, and her replacement is a half-wit who hates you on sight. You work all weekend to finish a report, but your hard disk crashes when you start up the computer, and you never thought to create a back-up. Sh*t happens even to the ablest, best prepared, and hardest working people. That’s just how it is. What matters more is how you deal with it.

Life is a risk. Every success comes with some risk attached—often quite a lot. By avoiding risk, you will avoid everything that makes life worth living.
Let’s begin by saying what you should not do:
  1. Never give in to the temptation to avoid the sh*t by avoiding as much risk as you can. For a start, it’s impossible. And you will end up as a grey, mediocre person everyone thinks is an auditor. Life is a risk. Every success comes with some risk attached—often quite a lot. By avoiding risk, you will avoid everything that makes life worth living.

  2. Don’t whine and give in to self-pity. If you do, you will add unpleasantness to failure. Now you aren’t just someone who tried, but was defeated by random events. You have become an embarrassing liability.

  3. Don’t look for scapegoats and try to pretend it was nothing to do with you. Leave that to politicians and top executives. No one believes them anyway. Such behavior merely proves to the world that you are an asshole too.

  4. Don’t give up. Random events (the source of most of the sh*t) are . . . random. Next time you try, they probably won’t be there and it will all go exactly as you planned.

  5. If you’re a leader, never punish a staff member for an honest failure. All you will do is prove (again) that you are an asshole, plus show them that taking any risk again—ever—is a bad idea. Now your team will be full of quasi-auditors, because everyone else has seen how you behave and learned the obvious lesson.

Be totally honest with yourself and everyone else. If you contributed in ant way to your failure, own up at once. Trying to hide what happened nearly always makes it far, far worse.
That is what not to do, and it ought to be entirely obvious. Clearly it isn’t, because thousands of Hamburger Managers behave precisely in those ways on a daily basis. Which explains in large part why the majority of corporations are so dull and risk averse. This is what you should do:
  1. Be totally honest with yourself and everyone else. If you contributed in any way to your failure, own up at once. Trying to hide what happened nearly always makes it far, far worse. Ask all those executives (and politicians) who ended up in jail for doing exactly that.

  2. Learn whatever you can from what has happened. That won’t make it any better, but at least you will get something positive out of it. Only a total moron will ignore the lessons life hands up, whether you want them or not. Sadly, the world appears to have an endless supply of such people, some of them in important positions.

  3. If the sh*t was a random event, your job as boss is to reassure, comfort, and display undiminished trust and loyalty. Doing anything else proves the asshole bit.
  4. If your subordinate is the one on whom the sh*t fell, ask yourself this question before saying or doing anything: “How far did that person contribute to his or her own misfortune?” If the answer is that incompetence, inattention, laziness, or any other culpable action was to blame in a significant way, you need to go into coaching mode. Help him or her to understand and avoid doing it again. If they won’t or can’t, help them find another job. If the sh*t was a random event, your job as boss is to reassure, comfort, and display undiminished trust and loyalty. Doing anything else proves the asshole bit.

  5. Note what happened, pick up the pieces, comfort and help the injured, then stop and take stock. Try to understand what went wrong and reflect on what that is telling you. Let the dust settle, and then set out again with undiminished enthusiasm. Sh*t happens. It’s no big deal, unless you make it into one. If it’s still a good idea and an acceptable risk, simply start over.

  6. Expect it all to happen again. It will . . . sometime. It’s how the world works. If you let it deter you from what you know is right for you and your organization, you risk being seen as a coward as well as an asshole. The only sensible way to deal with future risks is to do whatever you can to minimize them (careful analysis, rational thought, contingency planning, deep consideration for alternatives), then ignore them and press on cheerfully. Hey, it may never happen!
Most of the pain and loss of confidence caused by sh*t happening comes from giving in to emotional responses. It hurts, so you lash out, throw a tantrum, curse your colleagues, take it out on your team, your partner, or your cat. Bad idea. You look foolish and weak, prove (yet again) you’re an asshole, and do nothing to make anything better. Generally, your emotional responses make the situation much worse.

Stop. Stand back. Do nothing until your emotions are back under control. If you must let off steam, do it as privately and secretly as you can. When you are back on an even keel, use your head instead of your heart. Emotions are natural and understandable, but they come from the most primitive, least developed segment of our brains. We humans have a huge part of our brains that has been developed and specialized for thinking. Use it.

Last, but far from least, forgive yourself. Guilt is useless and pointless. If it wasn’t your fault anyway, why beat yourself up? If it was—at least in part—let it go. As I said at the start, sh*t happens. We are all human and fallible. Forgiveness is the best cure around for the bumps and bruises of life.

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13 Comments:

Felix Enescu said...

Unfortunately too many bosses first search someone to blame! I had my shares of those.

Providing support for your people is paramount. They must feel you are on their side.

10:12 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

I agree, Felix. Trying to shift the blame onto others is the first refuge of the scoundrel.

Keep reading, my friend.

11:38 AM  
Sanjay Kumar said...

Amen. I can't tell you how much respect you gain by simply holding yourself accountable when the situation warrants it.

www.SimplifyThis.com

6:46 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

You are so right, Sanjay.

Keep reading, my friend.

10:50 PM  
Paul said...

Great post, and I agree with Sanjay. I always try to hold myself accountable instead of pointing the finger at others - you gain MUCH more respect this way.

7:27 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Paul

4:08 PM  
Michelle said...

I don't know how I ended up here, but this was a great article not only for work but also for relationships. Mine just ended a few days ago and this was incredibly mind-opening. Thank you.

11:03 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

I'm glad that you found the article useful — and pleased that you found it at all!

Keep reading, my friend.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous said...

Why do you keep typing sh*t, yet repeatedly use the word 'asshole'?

Just wondering...

12:44 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

In England, I wouldn't bother to type either except fully. In America, some people are offended by one, some by both, some by neither.

I guess you can't please everyone all the time.

1:03 PM  
Jason said...

I concur that you should just use the words like it is originally spelt. Most of your readers aren't stupid, it means the exactly the same either way, so there is really no point.

3:29 PM  
Jason said...

Just so you know, the article is wonderful, keep writing :D

My previous comment is just a stylistic feeling, i am only angry if someone try to use a "powerful" word but is too scared to use the proper spelling.

3:32 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Good point, Jason. I'll bear it in mind in future.

Thanks for the nudge.

3:35 PM  

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