Disappointments are inevitable in life, and more so in leadership. Although it is a profoundly human tendency to set ourselves up for disappointment, maturity can help us understand disappointments and reframe them as learning opportunities.

As a business coaching professional, I understand and value leadership maturity as one of the traits that underpin intelligent leadership.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Disappointment is part and parcel of life and leadership. What sets mature, intelligent leaders apart from their immature and less intelligent peers is how they handle disappointment.

In my leadership coaching books, I have detailed the concept of leadership maturity. Leadership maturity is what makes leaders strong and resilient. It lends them the power to weather the storm, learn from it and improve as leaders.


Mature leaders know how to deal with disappointments. 

In the context of leadership and executive coaching, disappointment is like a personal demon. And a dangerous demon it can be.

Left unchecked, disappointment festers in our souls, leading to discouragement and depression.

However, it can only wield destructive power over us when we give it power. Unfortunately, we tend to be masters of creating heartbreaks through our expectations.

As with every ailment, preventing disappointments is an easier and more effective approach than handling them.

Managing Our Expectations

Disappointments are direct consequences of unrealistic expectations. By our nature, however, we are dreamers. We like to imagine ideal outcomes, leaving behind the mundane constraints of reality. There’s a well-defined line between dreams and expectations, however.

How can we manage our expectations? Here’s how mature leaders do it.

An important factor separating mature leaders from “greenhorns” is experience. Experience allows leaders to build reservoirs of positively charged leadership references they can use to draw inspiration. Among these references, there are lessons about how to calibrate expectations.

Self-awareness and control are also key elements of leadership maturity. Intelligent leaders are aware of their emotions and the biases these emotions create. And they see through the web of deceptions their emotions may weave.

Open communication, adaptability, and the ability to practice gratitude can also help leaders keep their expectations anchored in reality.

Understanding the Role of Our Formative Experiences

As we grow up, we develop our personalities based on the education we receive, the environment we call home, and the people who make up our families and circles of friends. We bear the marks of many influences. And our formative experiences define our relationships with disappointment.

Some may lower their expectations to head off disappointments, becoming chronic underachievers. Others may try to stay ahead of the curve by becoming overachievers.

Leadership coaching can help leaders develop the self-awareness they need to understand the impact of their formative experiences on how they deal with disappointment. Once they know why they react to something in a certain way, they can learn to control their reactions and compensate for their biases.

Dealing with the Anger of Disappointment

Disappointment exacts an emotional toll on all of us. As a perceived injustice, it makes us angry. Some direct the anger inward, holding themselves responsible for the failure.

Others direct their anger outward toward other real or perceived stakeholders who failed their expectations. In both cases, negative feelings like vindictiveness and bitterness result. Over time, these may degenerate into depression and apathy.

Executive coaching advises leaders to distance themselves from the minutiae of disappointment and look at it from a more distant, objective perspective. Such a stance allows leaders to:

  • Clarify what happened and why they took the chances.
  • Acknowledge their feelings and accept them.
  • Re-evaluate the role of their expectations in the disappointment.
  • Put a timely stop to their tendencies to extrapolate negative outcomes.
  • Consider the probabilities involved from a realistic perspective.
  • Reframe the event at the source of the disappointment as a learning opportunity.


Perspective matters.

Business coaching specialists know that disappointments can fuel future leadership and organizational successes. Leaders who can successfully reframe them as stepping stones toward their goals instead of seeing them as setbacks can benefit from disappointments.

Leadership maturity enables leaders to consider their disappointments and failures with a cool head, dissecting them in search of lessons to learn and mistakes to correct.


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