How Leaders Learn From Their Losses


Every leader is going to chalk up some losses. In this post I share how we can learn from the things we would rather forget.

Christy Matthewson and Jim Collins . . . baseball and business . . . pitcher and teacher . . . wise guys!

Matthewson was a winner. He won 373 baseball games as a major league pitcher. That is third all-time! Collins is a winner. His books are mega-sellers. So what do these two winners teach me? Learn from your losses!

"You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat." - Christy Matthewson, from The Love Of Baseball, p. 137
"We do ourselves a disservice by studying only successes." - Jim Collins, How The Mighty Fall, p. 24

Success has a way of wrapping a blindfold over my eyes. Enamored with watching my own highlight reel, I can miss the importance of improving subtle shortcomings. There is something about a loss or a mistake, however, that awakens the hunger pains of improvement. My vision gets sharper, my intensity is ratcheted up a notch, I listen to constructive criticism -- and I get better.

Okay, admonishment aside, just HOW does one learn from a loss?

Adam Scott lost the 2012 British Open in ignominious fashion. Scott blew a four stroke lead with four holes to play and lost his opportunity to win his first major. Scott's interview following his loss shows a lot of class. He also provides a professional clinic on how to learn from a loss.[1]

  1. Face it.  Scott did not run and hide. He answered every question interviewers threw his way. Reporting for Yahoo, Jonathan Wall commented, "here was Adam Scott, willing to rip off the band-aid, open the wound and go back through the gory details." We "face it" when we are willing to look back on what we would rather forget.
  2. Don't give in to it. Following the defeat, Scott said he felt "a bit shocked and almost numb of feeling about it." And then he added, "I certainly didn't beat myself up and have to curl up in a corner."Defeat is a bitter enemy who will berate you and try to convince you to quit. Ignore that voice. A loss stings, but the sting subsides with time.Failure is not final.
  3. Analyze it. The British Open runner-up took a couple of days to rest up---something he does after every major, and he analyzed his game: "I mean, my game is in really great shape . . . and I certainly analyzed the last few holes a little bit and took out of it what I wanted and then just thought about how great I played." Scott analyzed both his mistakes and his successes. That's important! We need to learn from our mistakes, but even in defeat there are little victories we can celebrate and build on.
  4. Move past it. Scott is not stuck in the past. He said, "I played four poor holes at the end, and you can't win and do that.... It's just motivation for me. I think I'm right on the right track, keep doing what I'm doing and I can get myself more chances like that." I love it! Scott is aware of the past, learning from the past, but not living in the past. He is moving forward. 

The Christian leader has still another resource to help learn from losses. When the Apostle Paul was facing a series of what could easily be described as losses, he discovered that God allowed these difficulties in order to make Paul and his friends lean on God more. Why? Because God's strength far exceeds our own.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

If you want to learn from your loss, by all means face it, don't give in to it, analyze it in order to learn from it . . . then move past it! But above all, ask God to help you. He has all the strength you need.

In Proverbs 13:20, God tells us, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise." Walking with Matthewson, Collins, Scott, and Paul is helping me learn from my losses. What lesson is there in your last "loss"?


[1]  I am indebted to Jonathan Wall for his helpful post, "Adam Scott remains upbeat about majors following British Open collapse" By Jonathan Wall | Devil Ball Golf – Wed, Aug 1, 2012 7:02 PM EDT. Accessed August 22, 2012. All quotes come from Wall's article.