Disappointment And Hope Are Both Critical Components of Leadership

I'm so excited to see nearly 200 of you in Atlanta in a week for the reprise of our Mind Your Own Business Conference. It's been sold out for weeks, so this isn't a plea for you to buy a ticket (we'll hold this every year, so never fear if you'd like to come in the future).

The speakers are remarkable, I think, but mainly I suspect principals just want to get together in person again, and here's what I've been asking myself: what will those private conversations be like? Not just what folks will chat about, but what will the vibe be like? The answer to that is bigger than the conference, and that's what I want to write briefly about this week.

The Enemy is Within

External circumstances can punch you in the gut , but too much focus on those challenges is a misplacement of your energy. It's really striking to hear a leader who is consumed by "the things that happen to them". They see those events or trends as roadblocks to success. "I can't find good people." "Today's work ethic isn't what it used to be." "Clients don't seem to appreciate our work like they used to."

It's exhausting listening to these people, even though they usually have a point. What they miss, though, is that the enemy that'll plunge a knife in your heart is usually yourself: lack of clarity, discipline, self-awareness, planning, nimbleness, etc.

Yes, some of you are going to get your asses kicked by external enemies, but you need to ask those patrolling sentries to turn around and look down on everyone in the castle and quit being paralyzed by external enemies, who will grow in your mind to the point where they aren't even recognizable.

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.” ―Marcus Tullius Cicero

Disappointment is the Foundation for Hope

Being hopeful doesn't mean that you paper over your disappointment. I'm not even sure you can be hopeful unless it's against a backdrop of real, experienced disappointment, in others and yourself. Disappointment and hope are permanent tensions that should not be resolved. They should co-exist and play off each other.

Some of the most hopeful leaders are also the ones who have had a:

  • Client pull their account without a fair hearing.
  • Team member talk shit behind their back or steal a client.
  • Freshly launched service offering that nobody is interested in, as it turns out.
  • Big ol' proposal go dark after 73 hours of prep, knowing for sure that you were going to nail it for a client.

There are two reactions to disappointment that are absolutely, critically wrong. The first is to lower your expectations to prevent some of that disappointment. The second is to sink into cynicism.

Cynicism, which is protracted disappointment, is absolutely incompatible with curiosity. And gratitude. And hope. Just don't do it, please.

Keep Risking

Back to those private conversations with your peers. Are you going to whine about how the world is teaming up against you, or will you keep aiming high, fully aware of how things might turn out, but undeterred and hopeful?

“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” 
—Thomas Friedman

“Cynicism may seem a mild transgression, but it is a patient predator that suffocates hope, slowly, over many years...” 
―Rachel Held Evans


Some big changes are afoot over here. A new company name, new personnel, new service offerings, and a new website. Thanks for reading this stuff, and see (some of) you next week!

[Speaking of events, be sure to mark your calendars for our next event, also in Atlanta, on Monday, Jan 30, on benchmarking your firm. More information soon.]

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now