Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Degrees of Winning – You have to Learn to Lose!


There will be thousands of articles, blogs and arm chair critics about England losing to Australia and exiting the RFU World Cup 2015, however just like in sport you also have to accept defeat in business. We all play to win and none of us ever play to lose, but the fact is that you will probably lose more than you will win. Its all part of the game of life and this is how you gain experience.

However the manner in how we act in defeat is what defines us as an individual. I am not saying you have to like it (far from it!) but you do have to accept it, learn from it and find a way to move on quickly. I constantly drill this into my own children much to their disaffection and the obligatory “Yes Dad, we know” (delivered in that tone of voice we all know so well as parents!) - and by the way if your going to start a business you better get use to this real quick because it is going to happen to you daily when you start out and when you do win - remember to enjoy the moment!

Equally "Winning at all costs" is not something I would endorse as an outlook, if you do, at best you will have a tarnished reputation, and at worse border on the unethical that can get you into serious trouble. So for those contestants that come out with all the dog-eat-dog clichés in week one of the Apprentice (which by the way I absolutely adore) please take note. Unfortunately recently a number of large corporate entities have forgot this and just like in sport there is no excuse for bad behaviour. In the connected online world where social media is king, customers express their feelings if they are unhappy by simply moving their business.

As a life-long fan of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson, and having watched more games than I can remember at Old Trafford I can tell you how the team played the game even in defeat is just as important to us as fans as winning. (and believe me we like winning!). I remember losing a match to Newcastle United at St James Park in the mid-90’s 5-0, we didn’t play badly but it was just one of those days and we got slaughtered. With 89 minutes gone, as a team United were still attacking looking for their first goal of the afternoon. That attitude says it all really and underlines why United are so successful. Steve McClaren (Ferguson's No2) famously once said "Manchester United never lose, they just run out of time".

If your smart every time you lose you will learn something. Not only about why you lost but also more importantly about oneself. I have to say I am a terrible loser. When we lose a business deal everyone in the office knows to give me space to let me get it out of my system for an hour or two but then I move on, and more importantly as a company “we” move on - quickly. This trait is ingrained in my personal makeup, something I can’t change and it comes out as I am highly competitive. I like winning, I never play for the draw and I hate losing.

Our behaviours define us and our outlook to life makes us who we are. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes - that’s life. Our imperfections are actually a fundamental part of our makeup as individuals.

So when you lose how do you deal with it? First and foremost there is no place for knee jerk reactions and rash emotional decisions. This only creates a sense of panic and fuels the notion that something must be done immediately by all those around you. Believe it or not whatever you do in the moment after you have lost doesn’t turn the clock back and resets everything. There is never an instant fix but what is needed is a period of reflection and a chance to regain perspective.

“Teams” win and lose business deals and teams deliver or fail in the delivery of projects and not individuals. If you are leading an engagement - “the buck stops with you!”; and as a Chief Executive of a company regardless if you’re a handful of people or hundreds of thousands everything rolls up to you in terms of accountability. So before we get to the “we”, you have to be brave enough to evaluate the “I”. This is not about looking for some-one or some-thing else to assign blame. First you have to perform the equivalent of open heart surgery on your own performance! Start at the beginning and evaluate every detail, every conversation, every event and your own behaviour to see how you could have performed better and if you had done something different would there have been a different outcome? Only once you have evaluated your own performance, you can move on to the “we” as a team, but you have to be honest.

It takes a mature outlook to undertake this process and your people need to trust you implicitly as otherwise they will feel there in a blame game. What your trying to achieve is a learning experience for all and something positive out of defeat or as I would rather look at it – “Invictus – latin for unconquered”. Because if you learn something from defeat then you haven’t really lost at all, just try to look at it as “degrees of winning”.

Vince Lombardi, Coach of the Green Bay Packers and the winner of the first two NFL Superbowls in 1966 and 67 said “Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is”. I couldn’t agree more. As for the Rugby – Well done Australia, as for England we weren’t good enough on the night. We have a lot of talent and we should all remember "Invictus  and degrees of winning!". Our time will come.