How to Handle Disappointment Like the Best Leaders

How to Handle Disappointment Like the Best Leaders

John Eades 19/11/2020 4
How to Handle Disappointment Like the Best Leaders

Losing a deal, a job being terminated, losing an election, a failed business or project.

This list stirs up some serious emotions, specifically disappointment. We’ve all experienced it in various shapes and sizes. While disappointment is hard enough when times are good, our current pandemic environment has many of our emotions close to the surface, exacerbating these feelings. So, how do we handle disappointment the right way? 

Let’s start on even ground by defining disappointment. Disappointment is the gap between our expectations and reality. That gap is then filled by emotions like sadness, frustration, anger, or even spite. While the disappointment gap is not the place you want to stay, the best leaders have learned a powerful lesson from it: Disappointment drives the dream.

Take Dustin Johnson, an uber-talented American golfer, as a prime example. He three-putted on the 72nd hole in the 2015 US Open to lose by one shot. Fast forward five years to Johnson capturing his second Major by winning the 2020 Masters tournament. His 2015 loss fueled his dream to become the #1 golfer in the world and eventually allowed him to slip on the exclusive green jacket.  

How to Handle Disappointment

Using disappointment to drive your dreams is a skill. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger every time it is stressed. When you experience disappointment, you are tested and stretched, which expands your capacity. As I have written before:

Only leaders who are tested become great.

Experiencing disappointment is a part of being human. However, it’s felt most intensely by people, as Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “ by those who are actually in the arena.” The best way to handle disappointment is to prepare and plan for it because it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. If you are currently experiencing disappointment or want to be better prepared the next time it happens, here are some things to remember:

Never Act Permanently Based on Short-term Emotion

You might be thinking, “Thank you, captain obvious.” However, just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. Disappointment is filled with complicated emotions that even the best leaders struggle with at the moment. The challenge is not acting on those short-term emotions. 

Instead, subscribe to the “48 Hour Wait.” Before making any permanent decision, allow yourself a minimum of 48 hours to process so you can think clearly and make better decisions. 

Disappointment helps you better understand what is important to you, as long as you examine the cause of the disappointment. 

This “48 Hour Wait” will help you better understand what is truly important while taking the time to examine the cause of the disappointment. Often, people uncover that they’ve put a false sense of importance on things that don’t actually matter to them in the long-term.

Add Fuel for the Fire

Most people take those feelings of disappointment and shove them in a drawer, never again to be reopened. Great leaders harness those feelings and use them as fuel, keeping their internal fire lit for long periods. It reminds me of the Zig Ziglar quote, “People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why I recommend it daily.”

I spoke to an incredible group of leaders this week who opened themselves up to the SkillLoft leadership assessment. Since each leader received feedback from their team, the key message was this: “Things that initially look like a burden are actually a gift. When leaders get authentic feedback from their team, it’s a gift.”

Things that initially look like a burden are actually a gift.

It’s their responsibility to use the feedback from their teams, whether positive or negative, as a gift to fuel their continuous growth and improvement.  

Learn, or It Was For Nothing

The only thing worse than experiencing disappointment once is experiencing disappointment again for the same reason. After a disappointment, open a journal and write down things you experienced or want to learn. Allow yourself the freedom to answer the following questions honestly and without judgment: 

What did I underestimate?

Where did I make mistakes?

How will I do it differently next time?

Do I truly care about this enough to proceed again?

Perhaps you had a not-so-recent experience. You can still go back and assess that situation. Anything that is going to prevent the possibility of experiencing disappointment the second time should be leveraged.


There is nothing fun about experiencing disappointment. However, if you don’t act permanently based on short-term emotions, ensure your disappointment is fuel for your fire, and learn from it, I promise you will come out better on the other side.  

Regardless of what you are disappointed about, I urge you to refuse to lower your expectations. This world needs people who want great things to happen and are willing to be active participants to make them happen. 

What strategies have you used successfully or advice would you give to others on how to handle disappointment?

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

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  • Riley Burnett

    Great ideas

  • Angela Jackson

    Powerful post.. useful tips

  • Kylie Vinters

    You saved my time!

  • Rebecca Elizabeth

    Awesome tips, cheers John

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on, LinkedIn Pulse,,, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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