Just imagine, upon returning from your vacation, you find out that a couple of elements for the success of one of your projects suddenly changed. A senior executive that used to be an essential sponsor to your project, announced to leave the company. At the same time, your alliance partner announced a change in strategy in a way that now seems to be in collision with your alliance strategy.

It is clearly not how you envisioned coming back after that great trip you made. You returned to the office excited, reenergized and ready to continue growing your project. Growing your project according to the plans you set out with your sponsor and your alliance partner before you left. However, life went on while you were away. Positive things happened as well, but they now seem to fade away due to the challenges you suddenly face.

How sudden these changes might seem to you, they did not happen overnight. The senior executive who left the company was already in negotiation about his new job for a few months. He involved another executive in the past months; it seemed to make sense for the project. On the other hand, your alliance partner was holding back on some essential steps in your partnerships, yet she always had an acceptable explanation for it.

You realized that your sponsor was already preparing his departure, and your alliance partner was aware of the upcoming changes. They simply could not share the details with you yet.

It felt as if everything had changed and your project was now doomed to fail. What to do?

You called your coach and the conversation with him helped you forward. After this conversation, you felt inspired again to move forward with the issues, and you could see new ways to achieve the success you aspired. Your coach asked some intriguing questions, which invited you to take a step back and look at the situation from a distance.

This “step back” position made the situation less worrisome than being in the middle of the problem and subsequently you jointly set a strategy to face the issues. Firstly, you reached out to your alliance partner to fully understand their strategy change and its implications. Afterward, you reconsidered your alliance-specific strategy. Is the opportunity still valid, is this still the right partner and what are the possible next steps forward?

Next, you reached out to your sponsor to solicit his view. Even though he announced his departure, he would still be here for a few months. He proactively invited the other executive to the meeting, the executive eager to become your new executive sponsor for this project. Your evaluated strategy combined with their input gave you a clear set of steps to move forward towards a redefined success.

The moral of this story is to not dive in head first when facing issues. Just take a step back, solicit a sounding board, a sparring partner or a coach. Find advice to help you identify the new opportunities that these setbacks present to you.

PS: I’m currently reading Work Rules* by Laszlo Bock, the head of People Operations at Google. The book provides an inside view on leadership and people development in Google.