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5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection.

It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s.

Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present.

Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But this always involves change – and tension always accompanies change. Always.

And for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.

The fact is no one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.

When my ideas are being rejected I like to ask myself some questions.

Here are 5 questions to ask when facing rejection:

Is the rejection based on truth?

Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs.

And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.

Is the rejection about you or your presentation?

If it is personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection.

If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions?  (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.)

Am I the wrong person to present the idea?

Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection?

I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member.

Is the rejection permanent?

Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first.

Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything.

Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?

This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better.

Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • thank you this goes to evey1 of us in the ministry…

  • Jon says:

    For me it was a promotion that I failed to get several years ago.

    It was probably 10 years ago now that I decided that there was a task at my job that wasn't adequately being addressed that really needed to be and I felt that I was the man to do it. So I researched what needed to be done and what was not being done and I made a case for it being done and for me being the man to do it and that would in essence require a new position; a higher level position for me to move into. I also made the case for hiring a new person into my old position so that we would get more staff which we also needed. It was a win-win-win situation for the company, the department, and myself.

    I presented the case to my boss and we discussed some of the downside of it and I agreed that I could handle that and although some of the downsides weren't fun, it was just a part of what needed to be done. He went to the CEO and HR and they all agreed. But there was a person leaving and I would be potentially taking on part of her job and so everything kind of got put on hold. But I was told that it was just a matter of time before it would all be worked out and I believed them.

    Some of the parts of my new job were being dictated by new regulations in our business and so I, in good faith, started working on them without benefit of my new position or higher pay.

    Long story short, this went on for months and months. I quietly approached my boss a couple of times about it and he supposedly went to the new CEO, since the other one had retired. Finally one day he calls me into his office and gives the good news and the bad. The good new was that I was going to be able to do all of the things that I had wanted because the company realized how essential they were. The bad news was that I was not going to get promoted nor was there going to be an increase in staff. He was going to hire a person to come in as a mid-level manager so that he didn't have to deal with the personalities of other people in my department who weren't on my team and the CEO had told him the department wasn't big enough for two supervisors; so he had to choose to hire this other person of promote me. He chose the former; I was livid.

    I remember standing there in total disbelief and for what seemed like an eternity I didn't say a thing because I knew if I opened my mouth what would come out would get me fired on the spot. I went home that night, told my wife and immediately started looking for a new job; which I never found. I still work for him today. The problem I have is that there is perhaps one of me at any given company and most times my position is filled internally. I could have left for a lower position, but my wife only worked part-time and the decrease in salary would have been potentially devastating.

    My boss and I work together, but that incident has so colored my opinion of him and has negatively impacted my thoughts of him over the years.

  • Mrs. W. says:

    Sometimes we experience our greatest rejection in the church in the area of our calling because someone is unleashing fiery darts to discourage us. Just sayin’. Great post.

  • I will never forget the first proposal that I wrote that was rejected… Man, was I bummed out! However, asked questions about why my boss did not like it, what was missing and how could I improve? Took the same idea, repackaged it, this time it was approved. I was presenting it such a way that appealed to me… I was forgetting how my audience wanted to hear about it. I find myself often presenting things the way I like to hear them. We have to remember who are audience is:)

  • Great insight! I think the greatest thing is to understand the issue is the issue, and the person is the person. Understand the difference.
    Rejection can be a catalyst! I remember I really started driving after I failed my driving test the second time. It just spurred me!
    No matter the reason for the rejection, re-evaluate, refresh, and re-launch.

    Thanks Ron!

  • Kari Scare

    Rejection came often in my last job, usually because of lack of time or money. I dealt with it by realizing that it wasn’t personal and that there were factors beyond my control and knowledge involved. I tell myself and my kids often that what a person does or says is more about them than you usually. I encourage tham to give that person the benefit of the doubt and to not judge since they don’t know all the circumstances involved.