5 Quick Ways To Turn A Situation Around When It Blows Up In Your Face

As a leader, you have it all planned out in your head.

But welcome to the real world—things almost never go as planned.

I learned that the hard way again earlier this week when a live training webinar we had planned out for months completely failed us.

The prep my team did was thorough and amazing. We had over 3800 leaders sign up for the live training—more than we expected. We tested all the systems.

The slide deck was professionally designed and ready to go. We were on the webinar early and everything was green light go. Everything was set for a perfect event.

Then as we hit “Go live” our web-host literally collapsed. The webinar software just melted and kicked everyone off, sending everyone into some internet black hole. Complete failure.

It was a pro company. We paid our bills. Apparently, none of it mattered. Their customer support? Singularly unhelpful.

What happens when you let 3800 people down at a live event?

Let me walk you through the lightning-fast leadership pivots my team and I went through.

My hope is they’ll help you the next time your best-laid plans blow up in your face.

1. Feel All The Emotions…For About 3 Minutes

At first when our web-host failed us, I was confused—and I thought, well, we can get this back.

Five minutes later it was clear that we were going to let almost 4000 people down. There was no way to make the live event work.

Then all I felt was anger with a bit of self-pity thrown in (of course this would happen to me…).

The problem with negative emotions is that they can literally hijack your brain. As a result, you need to feel your emotions, but not live in them.

You know that guy who has a negative story loop that plays through his head every day (It will never work out… of course that was too good to be true… it’s all just useless)? He’s let his emotions hijack his life and leadership.

We knew within minutes that blame, anger and frustration weren’t going to help us at all.

So we moved on.


2. Focus On What You Can Control Not What You Can’t

Your emotions can get stuck in a crisis, but so can your focus.

It’s so easy to focus on what you can’t control. I can’t control a webinar host, or who shows up, or other peoples’ emotions.

We do this all the time. We blame the economy, other people, the weather.

Think about your prayer life. It’s so easy to pray about other people, circumstances, and so much else when really what you should be praying is “God, I’m such a jerk. Help me understand why and give me the courage to change.”

Focusing on what you can control takes far more courage than what you can’t control.

We couldn’t control the webinar folks, but we could still record the new training (which was the point of the webinar anyway…to train leaders) in my home studio, which I did that same day.

Effective leadership focuses on what you CAN control, not what you can’t.


3. Brainstorm Around What You CAN Do, Not What You Can’t

Similarly, you need to get creative IMMEDIATELY on what you can do, not on what you can’t.

As my team did a quick debrief, we quickly pivoted to talk about a new approach.

The live webinar was dead, but we did have the emails of everyone who registered for it. And I had a total of 40,000 leaders I could email directly.

Plus as I said earlier, I could record the training in my studio.

Within 15 minutes, we had a new plan.. .produce the free training the same day, upload it overnight, and email everyone with it the next day.

Plus, we decided to extend the window where the training and course it points to is available, from one week to two weeks.

So that’s exactly what we did.

If you want to make progress, focusing on what you can do always beats focusing on what you can’t do.

Result? We have a free training that not just 4,000 people would see. Now anyone can see it.

Maybe that’s even a better strategy.

This is a living example of one of my all-time favorite quotes (from Henry Ford) who said: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”



4. Use All Your Channels To Explain

Within 15 minutes, my team and I had a plan, but the truth was no one else knew about it.

Thousands of leaders were left bewildered.

They had no idea what just happened or what we were doing about it.

So, I spent the next few minutes:

  • Jumping on all my social channels (Facebook, Instagram—both stories and main feed, and Twitter) to explain that the webinar server crashed and we were coming up with a new way to get them the free training.
  • Sending out an email to all my subscribers telling them what just happened.

Within 30 minutes of the breakdown, between email and social, we sent the message out to almost 100,000 people.

That way no one was left wondering what happened or filling in the gaps with a story they made up in their head. They knew exactly what happened and that they would get what we promised. And in retrospect, even people who didn’t know the webinar was happening now knew something was going on.

It’s important that your communication be authentic, honest and helpful.

I let them know the web host failed, I expressed my frustrations, voiced theirs, and told them we’d fix it.

The email subject headline was: This completely stinks…but hang on (we have a solution).

It voiced their frustration, some of mine and pointed toward a better future and solution.

When you’re in a crisis, naming the emotions in the room helps so much. If people know you know how bad it was and you empathize with them, you end up on the same side.

5. Make Your Audience Your Friend

I just think you should use every opportunity you have to love your audience, and crisis gives you one more opportunity to do that.

We wanted to make sure our public tone was such that people felt like we’re in this together. Yes, it’s disappointing, but we’ve got your back. We’ll do anything we can to help you, and we’re going to do it.

I was nervous people would be angry, upset and frustrated at us.

My team and I processed close to 1000 messages on social and email in those first few hours after the webinar died, and the team was blown away by how positive people were. People were awesome, empathizing with us, and THANKING US for all we were doing to help. I don’t believe we saw one negative email from anyone. Just emails of support and encouragement.

Crazy. (Of course, I need to let you know I have the best audience in the world, so that’s an unfair advantage.)

I think your audience can tell if you’re trying to help them or if, in your frustration, you neglected or abandoned them.

People know whether you love them or not. So leaders, love your people.

Even in a crisis. Especially in a crisis.


And, Ta Da, Here It Is…My New Free Training

If you want to see my new free training, I’d love you to check it out.

It’s a long title. Ready for it?  I called it The 3 Little-Known Secrets High Capacity Leaders Use to Take Back Their Calendars, Crush Their To-Do Lists, and Spend More Time With Their Families.

You can watch it here.

So many leaders think you have to choose between winning at work and winning at home. You don’t.

And high capacity leaders know how to leverage their time to make sure they win on all fronts. I share those secrets in the free training.

The free training springs out of my High Impact Leader Course, which (good news!) is open again for a very limited time at its current price.

The free training shares some principles I teach in the course, but if you want to jump directly into the course, you can do that here.


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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto and is author of several books, including his latest #1 best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. He writes one of today’s most widely read church leadership blogs at careynieuwhof.com and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews some of today’s best leaders.