Dealing with Leadership Frustration

Today, I feel frustrated. I am in the middle of several projects. While I am making progress, it’s slow, and each time I think I have clearly solved a problem, another challenge appears. 

So writing this post may be more cathartic for me than helpful for you. I hope it’s both. After all, leading toward a better future will always mean encountering some frustration.  

So as I wade through my frustration, here are three questions I am asking to help me deal with it.

What was I expecting to happen that didn’t? 

Expectations are a significant part of life.

If I am expecting a rainy day, but it’s bright and sunny with low humidity, I’m not going to be frustrated. But if I expect sunshine, and get a rainstorm, I am frustrated–especially if my plans include hiking and a picnic.

When I experience frustration, I have to ask myself, “What were my expectations?” 

 Were my expectations based in reality?

I have remodeled most of our 1950s Cape Cod house. Each time I have started a room, I have told my family (and myself), “This will be done in about a week” Guess how many times I have hit that estimate?


Bill Gates is credited with the saying, “People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” 

I always overestimate what I can do in short periods of time and that is a major source of my frustrations. 

To combat this, I do a couple of things.

For bigger projects, I write down the small steps in the project so that I can track progress before completion. 

I, also, try to judge my real progress on a weekly basis, not a daily basis.

Am I owning my frustration or blaming others?

As I said, I’m writing this post in real-time. 

I just finished a meeting. It was pretty obvious to everyone in that meeting that I was frustrated. (I once had a teacher tell me that my face says exactly what I am thinking.)

So after that meeting, I sent our team a note that said, “I just want everyone to know. I am not frustrated WITH anyone. I am frustrated with WHERE we are right now.”

Owning my frustration as my own keeps me focused on finding solutions, and it allows those working with me to know that it’s not their fault.

One final thought.

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived on a farm. I always enjoyed visiting them on Sunday afternoons. My parents would sit and talk with them, while I explored the barns, the fields, and the creek valley. 

I think of that valley often. Running downhill into that valley was easy. Climbing the hill out of the valley was not. And while it was hard, it was rewarding to make the climb and get to the top of the hill, where I could see so much more.

The Valley of Frustration is similar. It’s easy to run into, but the real joy is climbing out the other side–feeling the reward of the climb and the view from the next hill of accomplishment. 

So, while grabbing a drink from the creek in the valley is fine, don’t get stuck there. Keep climbing. The view is much better on the hill of accomplishment. 


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is the Director of Content and Product Strategy for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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