Your first reaction is you try to find an explanation. Finally, we don’t find one, so you turn the page and look to the next day.
Johan Bruyneel, Director Sportif, Team Discovery Channel
Bruyneel’s remarks were made following Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France when Lance Armstrong’s Team Discovery Channel inexplicably vanished, leaving their leader to fend for himself. It was a shocking occurrence for those who follow the Tour and raised questions about Armstrong’s ability to win the race for an unprecedented seventh time. That’s because the Tour can’t be won by an individual riding alone—it can only be won though the efforts of an extraordinary team. Team Discovery Channel was thought to be that extraordinary team and was considered nearly invincible. Interviewed after the Stage, Armstrong left no doubt that the meltdown would be the topic of serious discussion that evening. He was looking for an explanation.
Bruyneel, however, is right—sometimes there is no explanation when things go wrong. That’s difficult for most of us to take. We live in a world with round-the clock cable news and talk radio, we have access to literally hundreds of TV channels that cover a vast realm of topics and, of course, we have that 800 pound information gorilla at our finger tips—the internet. In fact, it’s so easy to get information that we’ve invented a phrase to describe it: when we need a question answered, we simply, “Google it.” But there are times when even Google can’t figure it out. There are times when there is no explanation.
It’s important that leaders accept that not knowing might be the most they’ll ever know about a situation. And it’s doubly important that when they realize that there’s no explanation, they move on. If they don’t, the consequences can be severe.
Revisiting past failures and obsessing over what went wrong can devastate an otherwise effective team for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s distracting. Instead of focusing on where they want to go, the team looks back to where they’ve been. Unfortunately, while they’re looking back, the competition is moving ahead. Getting stuck in the past also saps confidence. One of the chief reasons people hate failure is that it makes them feel so lousy. Constantly reliving mistakes is depressing and, in the end, limits your chances of future success. Of course we want to learn from our mistakes, but if the answers aren’t apparent, and time’s an issue, it might be best to just press on. Keep your antenna raised for problems, but don’t sacrifice your forward momentum.
Team Discovery Channel took Bruyneel’s advice. Instead of succumbing to second guessing and letting themselves get down, they approached Stage 10 as champions. They rallied for that Stage and performed fabulously in the following days. They didn’t let an anomaly cost them their advantage. They didn’t let one poor performance characterize their entire performance. They moved on. —Ebert