As leaders, we are always chasing and trying to promote what works. We want to try and remove obstacles so others on our team can do what they do best and be successful at doing it. We view challenges and problems as a distraction that is nothing more than an annoyance that is destined to make our lives impossible and strip us of our sanity.

It’s so easy for leaders to have a vision of the direction things need to go and anything that seems to threaten that becomes an enemy by default. We may not admit it, but many times that is how things tend to play out. If we’re that vehement towards speed bumps, disasters can put us in a rubber room if we’re not careful.

Although counter-intuitive, there are disasters that are absolutely essential to your leadership development. It’s not necessarily the disaster that benefits your leadership, but rather the opportunity to choose how you respond to the disaster. If you allow it to make you cynical, bitter and aloof then it will diminish (if not destroy) your leadership ability. If you allow it to teach you, a disaster is exactly what can push you forward in a way that would have never otherwise happened.

Disasters have a way of giving us the opportunity to develop and use skills that may lie dormant in any other scenario. I hate the frustration and pressure that comes with disasters, but I have learned to look for the lesson in every one. It allows me to have a positive focus in a situation that I would consider a giant pain in my…well, you get the picture.

Here’s a list of 5 disasters every leader should experience in their professional development.

  1. A lie that makes you look incompetent – Sooner or later someone you’re leading will be worried about their job or position and may re-engineer the facts in an attempt to mitigate any fallout. If you have had the experience of looking incompetent because of someone else’s “version” of the facts, then you will be able to make it right without all of the emotional baggage from being incensed about the whole affair. Being overly emotional when things happen unexpectedly leads to rash and, usually, poor decisions. Take it on the chin and move on with things.
  2. Your idea is a failure – No one likes to have their idea go south. Having an idea flop teaches us how to be passionate about doing something without having excessive emotional connection to it. I know it sounds like a bit of a paradox, but leadership is expressed through creative tension so you might as well get used to it. Without the excessive emotional connection you will be able to see the good points and the factors that made it flop. This kind of objectivity is critical to maintain your confidence and your ability to think more critically.
  3. Someone takes credit for your idea – This was a tough one for me for years. It’s frustrating when you work hard to put together something and your hard work goes unrecognized by the people who “matter”. As a leader, we need to defer credit to our team and this disaster prepares us to be willing to do it well and graciously. Trust me. Once you’ve consistently done this enough, your team will give you the props your work merits. What a better compliment to a leader than having a successful team full of great ideas (yours or not)?!
  4. A misunderstanding tarnishes your character – If you’re not a great communicator, your leadership will suffer immensely. Feeling the pain of being viewed in a poor light because of a misunderstanding is somewhat of a rite of passage for leadership. Communication is about the person hearing, not the person speaking. It is the leader’s responsibility to be clearly understood. Being misrepresented by poor communication is a strong motivator to make sure your communication is where it needs to be.
  5. Be excluded out of spite – As a leader you will have to do things that aren’t very popular. Having someone act in a passive aggressive way isn’t pleasant, but it does thicken your skin a bit. Sometimes the benefit of a decision or direction aren’t readily shown. Maybe a decision has little positive, but it has to be made. If you have experienced the ugly response from it and weathered it well, it will serve your leadership development nicely.
  • Wow, what a relevant piece for college students who are going to face many, many required group experiences in their classes. College is a perfect place to practice taking the lead in these team projects, experience some of the disasters the author mentions, and work through actions and reactions. These situations provide both invaluable real world workplace experience, but also impressive interview-worthy discussions about the process. I appreciated this piece to share with my students! Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof http://chattyprof.blogspot.com

  • Great point Ellen. Very good that you are looking into the leadership element within the context of college. The curricula of so many higher learning institutions are so focused on solely the business metrics and the leadership component gets lost in the shuffle. I doff my derby. Thanks for your contribution!