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The Comeback Can Be Greater Than The Setback

In my business coaching, leadership, and life, I operationalize many of the skills I learned during my master's program. Part of my advanced degree was spent coaching high-performance athletes for Canada’s Olympic teams. In a split second, a top athlete can sustain an injury that takes them out for a season or causes them to put their dream of competing for a podium spot on pause. I watched a few athletes who had to overcome personal setbacks. I coached them as they did the mandatory training, uncomfortable and slow-moving physical therapy. I witnessed some of them recover from painful surgeries to come back at top speeds after serious dedication and intense training.  

Over the last year of growing my own consulting company, we have faced my fair share of setbacks requiring my team and I to re-strategize, pivot, overcome, and recalibrate. We endured staffing changes, various partnerships with altering priorities, personal challenges, and a reevaluation of our methods and procedures. All while we were taking on new clients, continuing relationships with past contacts, and operationalizing and executing the vision I had for our organization. My team and I collectively worked, (and continue to work through) challenges and setbacks. All those obstacles allowed us to come together and finesse our work, and evaluate our systems, roles, processes, and resource needs. We are standing together on the other side, stronger.  

Whatever setback you are currently experiencing, whether it is related to product development, policy implementation, staffing changes, or another struggle, remember when you focus on your purpose, mission, and values, the comeback can be stronger than the setback.  

Here is a list of my five insights you and your team can consider when facing a setback to inspire the comeback: 

1. Expect Obstacles

Whether you own a business (new or established) or lead a group of people, expect obstacles. There will be challenges e.g., people, budget, client loss) that can get in the way of your big plans. By being ready and prepared for all eventualities, you are more likely to succeed and less likely to be taken by surprise when the goals you have in place are suddenly less achievable because a team member has resigned, or you have not been selected for an account or a client you pitched for. 

2. Debrief... Debrief... Debrief...

Allowing yourself to investigate the cause of the setback is another critical way to handle it. Understanding why a client has decided to go elsewhere or an idea has not worked out is a good starting point for preventing it from happening again. 

In my experience, issues fit into four categories: 

A. Systemic and structural 

B. Lack of clarity and communication 

C. Interpersonal relationships/dynamics 

D. Resource allocation and management 

It is important to establish whether the setback was caused by something at your end, something that was systemic, interpersonal, or a resourcing issue (budgetary or staff). Maybe you implemented a new policy that exasperated a problem? Perhaps your communication about deliverables and expectations was inadequate and led to the missed deadline. Whatever the concern, it is crucial that you and your staff work out what happened to rectify it. 


3. Be Accountable 

Evaluate your own role honestly and fairly. Transparently acknowledge your part and any damage your actions may have caused. Act with integrity to repair.  Encourage your staff to act with the same respect, responsibility, and courtesy.  

4. Accept the Things that You Cannot Change 

Sometimes the setback really can be just one of those things that happens, just like in life. If you have thoroughly examined your role and identified all the considerable options, it may be best to accept it and let it go. You may have a staff member leaving because they have a sick/aging parent, or you may lose a contract because your product supplier has an inventory issue. These are out of your hands and accepting that is an effective way to approach these kinds of issues. 

5. Seek Support 

If you are encountering a particularly difficult problem and you cannot see a way out, reach out to your trusted network and their professional insight. Find someone outside the issue to discuss it with, we can sometimes get so close to a problem, that we may not see a way around it. There are experts in every field, business coaches, and even a trusted colleague in another department, with a listening ear who can offer insight into your current situation, or just listen and help you sort through the issue. Speaking to others in your network can give you that lift you need to get out of the mire and back on track. 


In business, just as in athletics, some situations and circumstances are seen as setbacks. By learning how to plan for, evaluate, own our role in, and build from these setbacks, we can come back stronger. The comeback allows for transparency, connection, and a strong workplace culture of trust and collaboration. 


You can also find this article through the CPHR website here:

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