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After a Team Defeat, Be a First Responder
After a major setback, mishap, or defeat, the best leaders don’t immediately act like cheerleaders. Rather, they show up more like first responders.
Just as real-world technicians who are trained to respond immediately to an emergency situation, the best leaders are first on the scene after a setback to provide the care necessary for a quick recovery.
In the case of a team mishap or defeat, the care most required is simply the presence of the leader and a willing ear. Anything more, and a leader actually impedes recovery, not aids it.
Leaders who don’t quickly arrive at the scene and offer the support of their presence miss the boat. They don’t need to offer optimism or words of wisdom. They simply need to be present.
The best leaders resist the urge to add any more value. At least initially. They just show up. Without pointing fingers or finding blame for whatever has transpired.
Until the emotional sting of the setback or defeat begins to fade, their highest and best use is to simply engage positively. The team is not yet ready for words or explanations or cheerleading. They need to get past the disappointment or disillusionment of the negative outcome.
This usually doesn’t take very long, depending, of course, on the severity of the mishap and the likely consequences or repercussions of the event. The time it takes for most teams to recover is measured in minutes, not hours. But those are precious minutes where the only essential message that must be conveyed through the facial expressions and body language of the leader is one that has no hint of disappointment or disgust.
Once the team recovers their equilibrium, it is time for positivity and optimism to flow from the leader. Valuable lessons and insights can now be shared. While every situation calls for a distinct message, the key is not to go there too quickly. Leaders must resist the urge to give the pep talk before the team can actually hear and appreciate it.
The best leaders are first responders and then masterful coaches. They don’t skip the responder part. Show up physically as soon as you can, but don’t say much until people are ready. You’ll know when.