When a sports team loses a game, the athletes are disappointed. Their coach is too. Though they're all working together, there is an obvious separation between the coach and the players -- the players are on the field, and the coach is on the sidelines.

It's possible for the coach to show up and do their job right and still not get the outcome they wanted. When players don't follow directions or live up to their known performance potential, you can understand why a coach would be disappointed. And within the sports world, showing that disappointment is commonplace, if not expected. Some coaches even rely on disappointment to motivate and refocus their athletes. It's one of the tools in their toolbox.

In business, it's different. There is no difference between practice and the game: It's all game-time. There's no whistle and definitely no sidelines. We have teams but no coaches. Instead, we have managers and titled leaders. And the most skilled managers and leaders don't emulate sports coaches, and they certainly never use disappointment as a motivational tool.

Why? Because they understand that they're on the team and "on the field" just like everyone else. There is no separation between the manager and the rest of the team. Everyone wholly owns any failure, not just those closest to the ball. At least, that's how it should be.

Too often when a big sale falls apart or a product is delayed, the manager gets upset that the team didn't deliver. They show their disappointment on the outside. This disappointment can cause employees to lose faith in themselves and each other, and it creates a gulf between the manager and the rest of the team. If the manager doesn't take their part of the blame for a bad play, resentment grows.

When your team disappoints, what can you do instead?

  • Clearly communicate your support and encouragement. In all your communication and messaging on the failure, make it clear that you see yourself as a part of the team. There is no separation between you and the staff, and you share in the blame.

  • Get to know the problem. Talk to members of the team and use their insights to help diagnose what went wrong and how you can avoid it in the future.

  • Take responsibility and engage the team in fixing the problem. As a team, everyone owns both the problem and the solution. Identify ways to fix it together.

  • Deal with the weakest players. Weak players on a team could be people with performance issues or attitude problems. Address your weak links by getting them additional training or support. Consider changing their role to align better with their strengths, or fire them. Managers who deal with their weakest players in a timely, fair, and proactive way win.

Skilled managers and leaders know they aren't sports team coaches and never use disappointment as a tool. Instead, demonstrate your leadership skills by considering yourself one of the team, and address any failures from that vantage point. Your team will appreciate you all the more for it.