With the Right Attitude, Losing Can Be a Win

“Ron, thank you so much for facilitation of today’s event. I learned so much. And even though I lost the competition, I think I learned more by losing as opposed to winning.”

That line stopped me…”I learned so much from losing….”

This past week I facilitated a leadership summit for a major hotel brand in Phuket, Thailand.

Our lives can get so complicated that sometimes we moan from our struggles in life. But as this executive so aptly reminded me, sometimes you win by losing. Giving her closing competition analysis, she said she was walking away much richer from the experience.

Reflective approach to self-learning can be monumental in our self-development. It amounts to questioning every event, loss, win or interaction to synthesize what you learned. We have all faced hurdles in our career and “lost.” It could have been job you could taste but didn’t get or a promotion that went to someone else. We all will face loss in some way.

Analyze your reaction

One of life’s lessons is that the reaction to a situation will determine your trajectory from that situation

Don’t bemoan the lost, reflect on what was the take away. What did you learn from it, how can you use that golden nugget to move your career into the next phase? I know to some of you recalling a particularly bitter loss brings out the anger, the bile and the bubbling up of anxiety. But imagine for a second that it was a worthwhile experience.

Are you able to think about what it was you gained from the loss? In the midst of doubt and uncertainty, do you take a moment to clarify your values? If so, you are no stranger to self-reflection!

Self-reflection is an important exercise that can help people grow and develop by looking inward instead of outward.

The constancy of our learning nuggets

Question why some loss happened, but also question what you could have done differently or if the opportunity presented itself again, what would you do differently. Life is a life long journey and at each stage there should be takeaways.

So, why is this technique so important? We have thousands of thoughts per day, so many of them negative and repetitive. If you don’t make the time and effort to focus your mind in a positive direction, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to grow and develop.

Losing could be winning!

The executive at my leadership meeting could have walked away and feeling deflated because the exercise was competitive and, like every competition, someone has to lose and in this case it was she. But she didn’t; She consciously chose to see what she “won” from it.

I had a habit of keeping every employment rejection letter I received over the years; when they were still delivered by the post office. I’d see the return address and my pulse quickened as this could be it. I had survived multiple rounds only to be pacing the floor waiting for news. Then I’d get the bad news. For years, I had a special drawer in my home office where I would keep this type of communication.

But as part of my development process I would write down my thoughts as to why, what and how to do better next time. This mental exercise allowed me to positon my situation as a learning point. That is why this executive’s comment resonated with me so much that I stopped in my tracks.

Article Continues Below

The passive vs. active approach

My friend Marshall Goldsmith uses something similar. His technique is to consider “passive” vs. “active” questions. Active questions are the alternative to passive questions. There is a huge difference between, “Do you have clear goals?” and, “Did you do your best to set clear goals for yourself?” The former is trying to determine the employee’s state of mind; the latter challenges the employee to describe or defend a course of action.

Marshall’s six active questions are:

  1. Did I do my best to increase my happiness?
    2. Did I do my best to find meaning?
    3. Did I do my best to be engaged?
    4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
    5. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
    6. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?

I suggest that you give some thought to this approach whenever you begin to have those negative thoughts; when a “loss” occurs. Look at it from what you can learn from the loss. Ask yourself the active questions; try to pull as much learning out of the situation as possible.

Do this often enough and you may come to realize that the value of the loss is more greatly appreciated over time. That it may even become a win.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.