Regret, Disappointment & Leadership

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By Bill Auxier, Ph.D.

Several years ago I was having an ongoing conversation with a business owner about my purchasing his business.  It would have been a huge investment for me to coordinate with backers, but I thought it was a tremendous opportunity.  The owner verbally agreed to sell his business to me and I was very excited!  This was the big WIN I was looking for.  To this day, I still don’t totally understand what happened, but the deal never materialized.  I was disappointed for a long time.  I kicked myself for being unable to manage the deal to its conclusion.  I often second guessed my actions and the steps I had taken/not taken during the process.  I had regrets.

Regret is an emotion that raises its head when thinking about what could have been if we had done something differently.  Experience is a great teacher.  Making a mistake provides an experience that is an excellent teacher.  Whether we like it or not, our emotions like to emphasize our mistakes because they are such great learning opportunities.  Have you ever kicked yourself for making a mistake?  Research has concluded that the old saying “no pain, no gain” is true; the more painful a mistake is, the more memorable it is, the more it motivates us to change.  Regret also motivates us to fix any damage we may have created.  Personal responsibility and regret are closely linked.  Acknowledging regret to others may provide leadership by bringing people together.  Disclosing regrets can make you seem more vulnerable and more humble.


Disappointment encourages us to give up or abandon a goal instead of persevering.  While regret emerges when the outcome is worse than if we had taken different action(s), disappointment emerges when the outcome is worse than expected along with a feeling of helplessness.  Disappointment can provide value by helping refocus our efforts away from a goal that is unachievable while also attracting support from others.  This can actually provide leadership by encouraging others to help us.

Psychologist Joshua Hicks and Laura King have concluded that regret is an emotion necessary for ego development.  Individuals who share regrets are more mature, have a greater tolerance for ambiguity, are more empathetic, more open to new experiences and have stronger relationships with others.  Regret may enable greater happiness, more fulfilling happiness, happiness that is more resilient, more complex.

So how about you?  What regrets do you have?  What experiences have you had that were a disappointment?  Have you learned from those experiences?  Have you shared any of those experiences, regrets or disappointments?  That’s what effective leaders do.

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