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Time to Pivot? Leading the Way Out from a Setback

Imagine that you are a year into a new leadership role.

Leadership is your dream job, and you want to make your mark. However, your first year as a leader has been a disaster. Your initiatives have failed, and your team is demoralized and disgruntled.

What do you do? How can you turn this situation around? Time to pivot. Here are five ways to make an effective pivot.

Admit the Problem: Now is the time to stop and take a realistic appraisal of where you are. Don’t just focus on the negatives. Instead, actively look for the positives in the current situation because you can use those to pivot on. Gather the team and have a frank conversation about their perceptions of the problem. Ask for their ideas on how to pivot.

Know Where You Are Going: Once you and your team have decided on the negatives and positives of the situation, it is time to think about where you want to go. The direction may be a slight deviation from your current path. Or the new approach could be a complete 180-degree change. The point is to clarify the new direction.

Reframe the Situation and the Future: After establishing your new direction, work with the team to envision the future the pivot will bring. You and the team need to break from the past, which means discarding the frames or mental models of how your organization and team do things. Instead, make peace with the past and reframe the situation as an opportunity to grow.

Experiment With Your Way Forward: As you and your team journey to the new future, be open to new methods and techniques. Experiment with new processes, and note what works and what doesn’t. Don’t think of it as a failure but as a learning opportunity. And the value of learning opportunities is a deep analysis of what happened so that we can benefit from the lessons learned.

Measure Your Successes: When rockets and space probes travel to their destinations, they are launched as directly to the target as possible. However, course deviations will happen, so spacecraft make course corrections as needed to stay on target. Course corrections also are necessary for pivots. Use your successes, fallbacks, and near-misses to help you determine how close you and your team are to your new future. You will find it helpful to create a map of milestones to guide your journey.

Setbacks are a part of leadership. All great leaders suffered failures from time to time. What made the leaders great was that they learned from their mistakes and continued working toward their goals, while rebuilding their teams and organizations. Failure can stop you or can propel you forward. It depends on how well you learn and pivot from the setback.

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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