Your strength of character in the face of adversity says a lot about you as a leader. Turning a defeat into a positive experience says even more
The pain was evident. With every shot he took, every stride across the tennis court, and even as he stood still, he appeared to be labouring in distress. Yet he persevered. After all, he was Andre Agassi, one of the true greats of the modern tennis game. Mercifully, the match - his last at the US Open for his career - ended after the fourth round.
Exhausted and in pain, Agassi strode to his chair and slumped over, holding his head in his hands, sobbing. The crowd was on its feet cheering wildly. Regaining his composure, Agassi waved to the crowd, and moments later after his opponent had addressed the crowd, Agassi took to centre court and delivered a lesson for all athletes to remember. "The scoreboard says I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what I have found," Agassi said to the crowd. "Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty . . . I have found inspiration . . . You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I never could have reached without you." With that, he blew kisses to the crowd, as is his trademark style, and exited.
A loss is not the same as a defeat
"It hurts to lose" is a cliche and watching Agassi, the pain was evident in his hampered gait, hunched back and tear-streaked face. But Agassi did not lose in a metaphorical sense, any more than any real competitor ever does. He won the hearts of his fans and his competitors. Agassi said later that his tennis rivals stood and applauded him when he entered the locker room after his final match. That is recognition that Agassi is a genuine winner, more than his eight Grand Slam titles. But for the general public, Agassi's biggest win might have been in the court of public opinion. He taught us how to lose with dignity, grace and honour.
Every leader should know how to lose. Failure is not something they teach you in school; it is something life teaches you. You may experience it on the playground when you get knocked down. Failure may hit you in the form of a failed examination, or a rejection from a university. It strikes us on the job all the time. We may not get the promotion we think we've earned; or the initiative we are working on, slaving over for months, turns to dust. Failure is part of life. Coping with it is critical to personal development. Here are some suggestions:
Avoid personalizing defeat. Your project failed. Your team disbanded. Your career is in jeopardy. Not so fast. Points one and two may be true, but only if you accept defeat and internalize it as a personal failing will you be defeated. In this instance, managers can take heart from actors auditioning for a part. Hundreds try out; only a couple are chosen. Is everyone who trod the boards and was not selected a loser? Hardly. What if the director were looking for a leading man in his 20s, and you are in your late 40s? Or what if you are a teenager trying out for the part of a grand dame? You have to be realistic; you must fit the part. The same applies to management. You must accept that the project did not meet expectations and your leadership was lacking, but you the person are not a "loser". You and your team did not make the grade. What you do next defines your leadership.
Analyze what went wrong. You have to distance yourself from what happened by looking at the facts. The objective may have been too grand, the resources too meagre and the time line unrealistic. That's step one. Step two calls for self criticism. Did you do what you could to lead effectively? Did you set the right course? Did you delegate, supervise and recognize? Perhaps you were lacking in vision as well as execution. That's on you, yes; but admit it and move forward. Self analysis that leads to self awareness is required. Self analysis that leads to self pity is to be loathed. Take an active role in your self discovery process. Write down what you would do differently the next time.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.