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Ways to overcome adversity and enhance your project leadership skills

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When things go wrong it can be devastating. Whether a project doesn’t meet its deliverables, wider organisational changes have caused things to go off track or work has stopped entirely forcing you to move elsewhere, it can have an immense impact on us personally and emotionally. But how can we use negative experiences effectively to triumph over adversity and achieve personal enhancement?

Avoid the rumination trap

When dealing with adversity in project delivery, we risk blaming ourselves on an individual level and falling into a trap of rumination. This is when you have repeated thoughts about a situation, but unlike problem solving which can be useful, the thoughts are negatively framed which causes emotional distress.

It can be easy, clichéd even, to believe that all you need to do to minimise personal impact is ‘think positively’. This is never enough. You need to act effectively to create positive personal change to face future challenges head on.

A starting point is by asking peers and direct reports for feedback to help you identify your strengths. This way you can focus on what to improve and get better at. Investing in yourself by expanding your skillset is essential to recovering faster should you be thrown any further curveballs

For this to work with maximum effectiveness, a safe space must exist within the work environment. I touch upon the importance of safe spaces in this article on ethical leadership.

The power of self-belief

Getting honest feedback from people you deliver projects with can be terrifying, especially in adverse circumstances. Having self-belief makes this easier. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is ‘don’t wait around for anyone to tell you that you are good enough’. It all starts with you. If you don’t believe you are good enough then why would anyone else? As a woman, admittedly this viewpoint flies in the face of an array of discussions around imposter syndrome, with reinforcement that we must be insecure in some way.

There is a balancing act between examining your strengths, recognising you are actually very good at certain tasks, and using this to your advantage whilst maintaining self-awareness to not come across as completely arrogant. When you believe in yourself, adverse situations become lessons rather than failure.

Learn lessons through objectivity

Another important tool in overcoming adversity is how you approach learning lessons on a personal level. Accept that you can’t amend the past and move forward by reflecting in an objective way for both the present and the future.

Effective reflection begins by taking ownership over what has happened and making peace with yourself in terms of your role. If it’s a situation where you feel you were at fault, it’s admirable to take responsibility by being apologetic to your team. Realising and recognising when you haven’t got things completely right is a demonstration of strong leadership. By coming to a point of acceptance, it becomes far easier to examine events more constructively and pinpoint ways to do things differently for next time.

Keep reminding yourself that things don’t always go right for a variety of reasons and in addition to individual reflection, taking collective responsibility as a team is just as important. Projects can be messy and complex, and nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you learn from them and the actions you take in both the present and future that matter the most. By allowing yourself a sense of self-compassion, you can build your resilience, providing you with a stronger sense of strength should you experience adversity again.

Delivering through your team

It is understandable when facing adversity to want to do everything yourself to maintain a sense of control. However, it’s worth remembering that being able to effectively keep delegating and delivering through others in challenging circumstances is also a skill. Accept that you simply cannot be good at everything and allow other members of the project team to equally flourish by making the best use of their abilities. In certain difficult situations, this approach can also protect the team from facing their own individual impacts by keeping a sense of collective responsibility.

By maintaining a sense of team autonomy and delivering through others, you can also avoid  micromanaging which has negative impacts on the team.

Building your confidence

Negative experiences when delivering projects can hit your confidence. Speaking as a woman in a male-dominated profession, it’s easy to become extremely self-conscious and consider ourselves ‘unworthy’. However, in these circumstances it can be helpful to stop, look and reflect.

It’s always worth being observant to your surroundings and asking yourself the question of how leaders around you behave, especially when things go wrong. Those around you who may be the most confident in face of challenges, are not always the most competent; remember, having confidence does not necessarily equal competence. But maintaining and building confidence is key in bringing yourself and your team back up from challenges.

If you see a leader behaving in a way which inspires you during a difficult circumstance, ask if they can mentor you. Surrounding yourself with people who support and motivate you in building confidence is essential when dealing with setbacks. It’s important to emphasise that a setback doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job nor should you feel like a failure. Having faith in yourself goes a long way; shielding you from going down unhelpful paths, keeping your team positive and protecting you from events which can otherwise overwhelm you.

Once you master the art of being comfortable in receiving honest feedback, investing in yourself, and believing in your abilities, recovering from adversity will become easier and will help you stay on a path to becoming truly unstoppable.

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  1. Joanne Orlando
    Joanne Orlando 23 September 2022, 03:18 PM

    On a Friday afternoon after a very busy week, i really enjoyed reading that !!! Thanks for the boost of self-positivity and mindset :)