David Wray

ChangeDignityDisciplineLeadershipLosingOvercome Challenges

Leadership: Dignity in Loss, Uncertainty or after a Win

Dignity in losing and winning
Credit: NY Times & Casey B. Gibson

Is losing really a skill?

To clarify, losing is the not the skill we’re actually chasing. What we’re seeking to develop are the skills of grace, dignity and resilience following a loss, a win or in the face of uncertainty. 

To illustrate: Let’s consider the hard-fought US presidential election. Votes cast: limbo remains nearly two weeks on. On one side – you have Biden using his platforms asking citizens for calm and patience. On the other hand, you have Trump using his platforms to allege election fraud and conspiracies. The outcome: lawsuits, an uncertified election result, a country divided and the rest of the world trying to manoeuvre through it all! This example isn’t about Republican or Democrat; it is about personal leadership. 

Contrast that example with this one: Who remembers the winner of the 2016 World Triathlon Series in Mexico? I’m guessing that not many do…but I would hazard a safe bet that you know about the Brownlee brothers. With 700m left to go during the race in Cozumel, Jonny was leading the race – but began to weave from suspected heat stroke. His older brother, Alistair, could easily have sailed past him to win the race. However, he stopped to help Jonny reach the finish line and in so doing allowed Henri Schoeman to overtake them both for the win. Even at the finish line, Alistair allowed Jonny to step over the line first for a second-place finish. It was an incredible moment that led to spontaneous worldwide cheering! In the moment, Alistair placed his personal value above winning. 

The first life fact to acknowledge is that we will all experience losing at some point, whether in competitive sports, pursuing a new job, competing for a promotion opportunity, or elections. Accepting this reality allows us to shift our focus to identify the skills necessary for displaying dignity and resilience following a win or loss. 

Managing though a loss

How someone behaves after losing is directly correlated with one’s values, organizational culture (e.g.: the company, the sports team, the political party) and one’s philosophy. Let me illustrate this a little more:

  1. Acknowledge your opponent (or counterparty). This is about accepting one’s role in the loss, it happened because we weren’t the best candidate for the role, weren’t our best self on the day or the electorate priorities were more aligned with another party/candidate. Blaming external factors like officiating, the media, the weather or injuries do nothing more than make excuses. Far better to acknowledge that the opponent was better on the day and earned or deserves the win. Humility and dignity are important when the “chips are down”, particularly for our own mental wellbeing, given its positive approach.
  2. Maintain perspective. The sky has not fallen, the world has not ended, and it is but one moment in a series of moments which does not define who we are. In life, we enjoy good times and equally we need to be able to handle not so good or bad times. We depend on the ability to frame for ourselves how competition challenges us. Do we see it as a healthy activity or is it an obsession (e.g.: win at all costs)? In this question, we consider both preparation and post event. That is, our physical, mental and emotional state management.
  3. Align body language with dignity. Body language (or non-verbal cues) are incredibly important. People around us look to see how we carry and present ourselves, because it speaks louder than our words ever will. If we allow frustration, disappointment or a bad attitude to be visible to individuals around us (from kids and team members, to a spouse), we empower them to adopt the same negative demeanour!

Of course, from time to time, we all feel frustration and may want to deflect a lack of success away from ourselves. However, we can never allow it to rise to the top and be a distraction from the real reason we might be on the losing end. 

Dignity and grace in loss

Credit an opponent for beating you, even if you know you could have done better. Keep things in perspective and maintain a healthy philosophy about competition. Above all, maintain your integrity and lose with dignity.

With the event behind you, take time to reflect. Recognize and accept that your best current mindset (thinking) is falling short. You lost. Now…revise and update that mindset. Find new ways to build upon your strengths to increase your odds of winning. In other words, decide which skills need strengthening to improve future outcomes. 

Lose well today and win tomorrow. 

What are your tips and tricks for managing how you lose something?

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