Oswald Letter

View your mistakes as a learning opportunity, not as a failure

International  business teamby Dan Oswald

Sometimes it’s not about how you win but how you lose. That was the lesson Coach Dave Belisle taught his Rhode Island baseball team last year when they lost 8-7 in a Little League World Series elimination game. This video clip shows the story of the team and the words the coach used following their devastating loss.

Coach Belisle’s message about the importance of effort and how to conduct yourself even in defeat should resonate with managers as well. When you’re in a leadership role, not everything you or your team attempts will be successful. In the end, however, you have been entrusted with a group of employees because you are seen as a leader. Let’s face it—no matter what, life will have difficult moments. We are never guaranteed victory in anything we try, and that includes business. So the question is, “How do you handle a loss?” And when you do experience defeat or disappointment, what example are you setting for those around you?

Many times I see people who are so disappointed—even devastated—by a loss or failure that it changes their willingness to pursue new opportunities. When you’re faced with a new opportunity after experiencing failure, do you go for it anyway or hold back because there is a chance the result won’t be what you or others desire?

Let’s say your group is responsible for a new product launch. The product and marketing teams work for months or even years on an idea that seems to be a sure win. Everyone is on board and dedicated and puts in the necessary time and effort to see it come to fruition. But the new product launches and is a dismal failure. You can’t sell it to your own mother. How do you respond? What do you tell your team of disappointed members? And what do you, the team, and the company learn from it? There must be something good that comes from this experience despite the disappointment. It’s your job to find it.

You hire what appears to be a rock star. You do your due diligence during the hiring process. The candidate says and does all the right things, and you’re sure he will be a great asset to your team. After months of training and investing your time and energy—and that of others in the company—it’s just not working out. No matter what you do to salvage it, it was just a bad hire. Are you a better hiring manager because of the experience? Did you learn anything about the hiring process that might prevent making the same mistake twice? Are there lessons about your onboarding process you can learn from this situation? It’s your job to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them or, at the very least, reduce the chance you’ll make the same mistake again.

See, even in business, it’s not a guarantee that success will follow hard work. The boys on the baseball team gave their all—they practiced, they learned, they tried, and in the end, it didn’t work out. But if the fear of failure had kept them from attempting to make it to the tournament in the beginning, think of the experience they would have missed out on. It’s the same with work opportunities. What happens during and after the journey has a long-lasting impact on your employees and the company as a whole. Think of what you and your employees would miss out on if fear of failure was the driving force in what you’re attempting to accomplish.

As long as you give your all, learn from your mistakes, and approach each opportunity with determination, there won’t be disappointment in your effort. Notice that Coach Belisle didn’t say there isn’t disappointment. He said there isn’t disappointment in the effort that was given. Of course it stings and it’s difficult to immediately move past when things don’t turn out the way we plan. No one sets out to fail. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things just don’t work out the way we want them to. There are no guarantees. Except for the guaranteed disappointment if you don’t try to begin with.

Take your losses in stride, learn from them, and use them to teach and coach the employees you’ve been asked to lead. As long as you put your best effort out there, keep fighting along the way, and have the courage to persevere, especially when it gets tough, you can have pride at the end of the journey knowing you gave it your all. And that’s all any of us can do.