How to Use Roadblocks as a Jumping-Off Point to Learn and Grow

If you're having trouble dealing with roadblocks in your corner of the business world, try some techniques to soothe the initial sting and potentially turn these setbacks into opportunities.
How to Use Roadblocks as a Jumping-Off Point to Learn and Grow
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This story originally appeared on Ellevate

Literal or figurative, roadblocks are a way of life in business. As someone who has worked at every level of my company, I’ve faced them countless times. While it's never fun when life tosses a monkey wrench into your seemingly perfect plans, they can be springboards for innovation, creativity and success.

Take my recent travel experience to Florida for a huge conference, for example. Not only did I miss my departing flight to Orlando, but I had to wait four hours to board the next plane. Once I made it to Orlando, I dashed to the hotel to discover I wasn’t just at the wrong venue -- I was in the wrong city. It turns out I should have been in Fort Lauderdale, which was more than 200 miles away.

Long story short, I ended up taking a three-hour Uber drive to my destination (props to my talkative Uber driver, Elvis). Although it was hardly the stumble-free business trip I had planned, I never allowed the experience to consume me fully. By rolling with the punches and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I ended up no worse for the wear.

Certainly, not all roadblocks are such an easy fix. Years ago, a buyer with a large account asked us to develop new products. After spending months in consumer research and design, we presented the results. Regrettably, the buyer had moved away from the department without telling us, leaving us holding the bag -- and products the client no longer needed. It certainly wasn't ideal, but even significant and costly problems like that rarely ruffle me because I’ve learned that nothing in business is assured.

Business world truths: No free lunches, no "sure things"

As a female business executive, your roadblocks will come in different packages -- often unique to our gender. You might be a "boss’s daughter" like me, which can cause colleagues to assume that your business trips to warm locations are actually mini-vacations. You’ll work twice as hard as everyone else to earn trust, not to mention a seat at the table. You may not get a title for years, let alone an office to call your own. Embrace it all, because it will help you become more skilled down the road.

At our company, facing roadblocks has helped us become more mindful about data mining and conducting consumer focus groups. We get more information in advance about what our customers want, sometimes in pretty cool Undercover Boss ways. We've learned to anticipate roadblocks and plan for them. That way, we lose less momentum when they arise.

If you’re having trouble dealing with roadblocks in your corner of the business world, try some techniques to soothe the initial sting and potentially turn these setbacks into opportunities.

1. Develop a deeper sense of perspective. 

Not everything is a crisis. Amid my Orlando debacle, I laughed when I could have cried or raged. The experience was a test of my flexibility and adaptability, and I made the most of my choices. Becoming angry wasn’t going to make my problem disappear, but developing a plan of action could -- and did.The next time something stops you in your tracks, look for a way over it, under it, through it or around it. Don’t turn back until you’ve examined every option. Oh, and smile a bit: Smiling helps curb catastrophic thinking.

2. Elicit feedback from those around you. 

When you hit a roadblock, reach out to people you trust. Say you launched a new product that wasn’t getting traction. You could assume it was dead in the water and cut your losses, or you could check in with co-workers and see if the group can figure out where things went wrong. Did you communicate with customers concretely? Was there other technology you could have used during your branding efforts?

While you may operate as a lone wolf in many respects, you still need feedback loops from others to keep you from heading off in the wrong direction. The more information you receive, the less daunting a roadblock becomes. You may discover that your roadblock is much smaller than you assumed, allowing you to hurdle it with ease after you gather more data.

3. Become a "roadblock warrior" brand ambassador.

Instead of being the person who falls apart at the mere mention of a roadblock, become the heroine who rises to any challenge. Illustrate to everyone around you that you don’t see a momentary setback as a permanent state. Generally, most problems are solvable. A good example could be your company constantly missing product deadlines, which can lead to bad blood with customers. Over-scheduling could be the culprit, and you might need to begin delegating better.Don’t forget that leadership starts at home. Running a family is not unlike running a business, and you'll encounter plenty of personal roadblocks. Use what you’ve learned managing a household to help you stay sane at work when things go awry.

Wishing that roadblocks didn’t exist won’t make them go away. Accept that they are part and parcel of being human. Then, learn how to manage your responses to make roadblocks less of an obstacle and more of a learning tool.

(By Alison Gutterman)

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