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.

Isaac recently completed the High Impact Leader course. Here’s what he said about the difference it made:

If you asked me earlier this year if I would want a repeat of 2017 I would have said, no way.

After walking through the High Impact Leader though, I would and will repeat what I have been doing in the last few months.

It has allowed me to be more strategic with my time, energy, and priorities like never before. I have held a full schedule for the last few months and unlike ever before, my family did not feel the weight of it, my family was prioritized at the top of it.

Thank you, Carey, for helping the end of 2017 be great and I’m very excited about what 2018 is going to hold!

Pam from Red Rock Church in Colorado Springs calls the High Impact Leader “a gamechanger.”

Dave from Invitation Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a married pastor of a new church plant who has two kids under the age of five says:

“Just wow. Thank you. The course helped me identify my priorities and work to bring clarity in all phases of my life.  I feel SO, SO, SO much more freedom.”

And that’s the goal. I hope that’s what will happen in your life.

The High Impact Leader course has already helped over 3000 leaders accomplish far more.

Registration is open now for a limited time, and for the last time at current pricing. I’ve added some special bonuses for this launch you won’t want to miss.

To enroll and get instant access, click here.

What’s Helped You?

Thanks for walking with me inside our latest crisis. Guess what? There will be more.

In this life there always are, but I hope these five principles can help road-map you through your next one.

What’s helped you recover and even soar in a crisis?

Scroll down and leave a comment.


  1. My 5 for Friday (March 2, 2018) | Art Rainer on March 2, 2018 at 9:27 am

    […] 5 Quick Ways To Turn A Situation Around When It Blows Up In Your Face by Carey Nieuwhof. How do you react when the unexpected happens? The bad kind of unexpected. Often we tend to focus on the negative and blame shift, ultimately wasting time. In this post, Carey Nieuwhof encourages us to “Focus on what you CAN control, not on what you can’t.” He gives us five quick ways to turn a situation around when it blows up in your face. […]

  2. John on February 23, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    This blessings, you’ve really helped me.

  3. Anne Thompson on February 23, 2018 at 3:48 am

    I really appreciate your honesty. And thank you for putting the training out anyway!

    something I would really like to hear your thoughts on is how you people down or say no to commitments. I’m a pastor in a small church both locally and nationally. When someone asks me to do something I feel such and obligation to help out. Even when I know I can’t or don’t want to or want to spend the time on their “thing”. But I get a bad conscience, I don’t want to let any one down, let them sail on their own or I don’t want to disappoint. How do you deal with that? Or how do you suggest that I go about that?
    I know it’s about my priorities and boundaries. But how do you stick to your own agenda, when it’s obviously not on a parr with someone elses? I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this!

  4. Mike Delaney on February 23, 2018 at 2:42 am

    Carey, you and your team are amazing – such positivity was appreciated at the time and now with countless thousands we can enjoy your willingness to share your learning about what happened and rethink some of our/my responses when things go wrong.

  5. Sarah on February 22, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you so much! This may sound mean at first, or maybe it’s just selfish, but I was glad when I got your email that you would the webinar didn’t work as expected and that you would be sending out a separate link. Let me explain… I am a college student, and really wanted to attend the webinar, but I had a class scheduled right during it, and wouldn’t be able to attend. Because of what happened I was able to have access to the seminar after my class!!! Thank you! What Satan means for evil, God can use for GOOD!

  6. PJ Murray on February 22, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    When this happened I thought “Well this is a good teaching opportunity” and Carey, you didn’t disappoint! Your response was a great teaching on response strategy for anyone willing to pay attention. Then today you give us this post detailing your process. I appreciate you being in “our community”!

  7. Karl on February 22, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    At first I was annoyed I couldn’t connect, but I was so impressed with how you and your team handled communications so effectively. From the response to my initial email, to the update emails that followed. A really good lesson in managing a situation like this.

  8. Leigh G McCaffrey on February 22, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I trained with a guy who taught me never to miss the opportunity presented by a really colossal disaster. Thanks for turning it around so swiftly!

  9. Leah Purcell on February 22, 2018 at 11:30 am

    I echo others’ comments to commend and thank you for your transparency. I also think your ideas for ways to respond are awesome.
    Failures give us an opportunity to model vulnerability. What? We’re not in control? How do we deal with disappointing others and not moving forward in our goals?
    And failures can give us chances for us to pause and reflect on and get real about our capacity. What? We can’t do it all?
    As a person who is white and works in a white-dominated culture, I’m learning critiques of that culture – the water I swim in. This includes the insistence of perfection, and rugged individualism – standards that do not serve leaders well. As someone else mentioned, we can use “failure” to consider turning to our teams to help. And I would add that we can look to our community in general for support.

  10. Dustin George on February 22, 2018 at 11:02 am

    When you announced that you would be sending out the webinar link to everyone after the unexpected crash, I talked to my staff team here at church and told them that the action you and your team took was an incredible example of how to face a crisis, adapt quickly and move forward. Not only is the webinar full of golden practices and tips, the manner in which your team handled the situation was an equally valuable lesson.
    Thanks for being real and for being a real encouragement!

  11. Joel on February 22, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Carey, really appreciate your authenticity and commitment to humble, Jesus-focused, emulating leadership. Anger as a secondary emotion can so distract us if we don’t get to what it is we’re experiencing that triggered the anger. Really appreciated the advice to feel it deeply – for all of three minutes (love that) – and then move on toward positive action. Thanks for modeling this and then capturing and sharing the process with the rest of us. Gracia y paz for you and yours.

  12. Derek Duncan on February 22, 2018 at 10:19 am

    I think these ideas are awesome. I have also found the following helpful.
    1) In processing emotions I try to keep my mouth shut for a small period of time. Otherwise my fast brain kicks in and I often say something I regret.
    2) I try to train myself to pray as a reflex or first action, rather than problem solving right away.
    3) I trust my team to help fix the situation. They are there for a reason and this is how they learn to think and lead in a crisis.
    Thanks for all that you do Carey. I enjoy everything you send out, and please know that you have helped me to be more passionate and effective in ministry.

  13. Don Holt on February 22, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Carey: Thank You for clear honesty and clear coaching that I need.

  14. Chuck on February 22, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Very transparent, very honest, and very forward-thinking. I’d have probably sulked a lot longer and been angry and resentful for a little longer than that. Way to recapture the situation and make it an asset!

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