Jason Richmond, Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal Outcomes, Inc. Author of Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.

It was a business setback hard to imagine. A friend and colleague built a multi-million dollar company that grew 600% in one year. It was a wild, exciting ride, and there was every sign this incredible growth would continue.

Then disaster struck. The bank that carried my friend’s merchant credit account was acquired by another bank. After they reviewed their new accounts, the bank decided my friend’s business didn’t fit their portfolio of clients. They would lose their merchant credit card in 30 days even though there had been $49 million worth of transactions with no problems in the previous 12 months. Without the ability to process credit card orders, it was the beginning of a death spiral—an unbelievable out-of-the-blue setback.

Work setbacks, although not usually of this magnitude, are an inevitable part of any professional journey. Whether it’s missing out on a promotion, dealing with project failures or encountering unexpected layoffs, setbacks can take an emotional toll, shake your confidence and stir concerns about how others will perceive your capabilities.

My colleague and his partners were serial entrepreneurs and eventually made multiple comebacks in other endeavors. When chatting with him the other day, we analyzed the steps they took to recover, which apply to minor setbacks as much as major catastrophes. Bear in mind, as bestselling author Charles R. Swindoll, says “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you …”

So here’s how to react.

Own It

You have to accept responsibility for any mistakes that caused the setback. It’s a harsh reality. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen or try to cover it up (if it’s not blindingly obvious something has gone seriously wrong). In my friend’s case, it would have been easy to simply point the finger at the CFO. Taking responsibility is empowering.

Reflect And Learn

What went wrong? It’s vital to take stock of the situation. What could you have done differently—if anything? Understand the factors that contributed—both external circumstances and personal shortcomings. Were there behaviors you could have controlled that would have led to a different outcome? What could you do differently the next time a similar situation arises? This kind of reflection can provide valuable insights.

Be Professional

The business setback isn’t all about you. Chances are there’s an impact on colleagues and clients. Bottom line: Don’t panic. Work your way forward by being open and honest about the failure and what you are doing to correct it. Try to be cool, calm and collected. Don’t play the blame game.

Get Feedback

Don’t go it alone. Go beyond your own self-analysis. Seek the input of others who were directly involved and also from bosses, colleagues and mentors—inside and outside your organization—about their own setbacks (everyone has them) and how they got back on track. Talking through challenges can provide new perspectives and emotional relief.

Make A Fresh Start

What next? When you fall off a horse you get right back in the saddle. It’s the same in business. Set new goals and go for them. Start with small, achievable targets to rebuild confidence. Gradual successes can restore self-assurance and demonstrate to others that you are capable of bouncing back. This might include identifying areas for skill improvement or even changing career paths, if necessary.

Be Resilient

At the end of the day, you need to develop a strong backbone. Being resilient is not just about bouncing back from setbacks but also about creating an environment that supports continuous improvement and adaptation to new challenges. Building a corporate culture where challenges are seen as opportunities can lead to significant organizational and personal growth.

As Michael Jordan said, “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Final Thoughts

Setbacks are good for you. Researchers Gloria Kutscher and Wolfgang Mayrhofer found that “people who had experienced setbacks, despite initially feeling they had fallen off track, had had a positive shift in perspective.” They found that “the jolt of a setback had pushed them to reconsider and reframe their careers in ways that were more authentic to their inner selves” allowing them to become more successful than those who did not experience setbacks.

Work setbacks, while challenging, are not career-enders but rather part of the evolving narrative of one’s professional life. By understanding the challenges they pose and employing thoughtful strategies to overcome them, individuals can emerge stronger and more resilient. The key is to maintain a positive outlook, use setbacks as learning opportunities and continue pushing forward with renewed vigor and refined strategies.

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