Losing or losing gracefully if you can!
There is something amazing when you watch the 176 cyclists of the Tour the France giving their all day after day. What amazed me most this year was their fearlessness in falling down. Of course this is not what any one of them would like to see happen but they all know that its par for the course. Seeing how some of them were eliminated or injured and could not continue the Tour, put my own basic training (I’m not a professional) and competitions in perspective.
I was taken out of the water at the Chesapeake Bay 4.4-mile swim at the 4-mile point. This was my first time and all I wanted was to just finish the race. Well, it was not to be. How did I react? I was angry, very angry. My reactions are similar to a lot of athletes, professional and non-professionals, as well as leaders. First we can’t believe that we’ve lost, then we get angry, then we negotiate and analyze, and then we move on. Very similar to change models and the grief process. Clearly I needed to bow to the rules and learn that this is just a reflection of where I am physically, the conditions and the fact that it’s my first time. I needed to accept it, go back to my training and try to improve myself.
Some of the cyclists in the Tour de France take it with grace. I also saw one cyclist, upon seeing someone beat him at one of the races, yell out in the pain of not winning. I get it. We should all get it… because like a very smart mentor of mine once asked me “How does it feel to lose?” ….I responded, “Not really good, in fact pretty bad”… “He then followed with, “Get over it.”
This particular mentor said to me, “One thing we don’t study enough of is failure” and asked me to reflect on that. There is so much learning that can come out of studying failures. First, what was the context, what happened at the beginning, middle and end? For sports we may consider, the conditions, the weather, the day itself; for leadership the context, the people involved, the goal and the setbacks. What were you feeling at the beginning, during and after? I think one of the most important lessons in taking the time to look at failure is the learning as well as having compassion for oneself and others.
Many forward-looking organizations are now embracing failures especially when it comes to creating new products. Another context is in coaching. I always give my clients a couple of months of trying out new behaviors and giving them permission to fail. I want them to be able to observe themselves, see if they took the risk and tried the new behavior, and see if they were able to do it. If they failed I ask them to reflect and see if they caught themselves before during or after doing the old behavior. Permission to fail gives them freedom to try out different approaches and take risk. We then review what worked and what did not work in learning this new behavior.
Setbacks and failure can teach you to get better and stronger. Like an ironman colleague shared with me, “When you do an ironman you can bet that something will go wrong so know that before you start.” I haven’t even contemplated attempting this event. I’m still at the marathon level, the swims and just did my first sprint triathlon, but am happy to learn from all my sport colleagues I meet along the way. Back in the spring, while training for the SF Marathon and the upcoming Chesapeake Bay Swim, I fell down and hurt my ankle. I was upset. Acceptance was the first step then coming up with a new plan was next. I was able to focus my training on swimming for a while instead of running since the swim was first. The water was healing for my ankle. I also used Headspace, the meditation app that has a section on Competition and specifically on Rehab. My ankle healed well and I was able to do both the swim and the marathon. Since then I’ve met a lot of non-professional athletes, some are my leadership coaching clients, others not, who have had injuries. All are navigating their injuries as well as they can. My clients run into the same challenges. New changes at their organizations, promotions, demotions, new supervisors, challenging direct reports, difficulty in meeting their goals. Developing competencies such as persistence, agility, resilience and being able to work with ambiguity really can help navigate setbacks.
Learning to fall down and get back up may be my best motto. I’m pretty good at it in work, in sports and in life. I have some clients that don’t end up getting what they want and are stuck in holding a grudge. It’s really getting in their way of being successful. Emotional Intelligence is great but being able to work through difficult emotions is also important. One of my client is in the process of realizing this and knows that working through this would liberate her to start dreaming, hoping and working towards what she is capable of.
Following the Chesapeake Bay Swim I then continued my progress and trained for the San Francisco Marathon. It was a great experience. I’m a slow runner but I like to get to the end and earn my medal. Around the 18th mile I was hoping to make it to the end in time to get a medal. The memories of having been plucked out of the Chesapeake Bay Swim were fresh. I stayed focus, pushed myself some and did complete the San Francisco marathon and celebrated with a medal.
These days I’m focusing on the journey a little more while still wanting to better myself as I’m getting ready for the NY marathon for the first time and the Honolulu marathon for the third time.
Leaders as athletes will fall down, fail and continue to learn from their failures. We can all benefit from slowing down and examining why and what we could do differently next time. That is how one gets better! On to the NY marathon! Wish me luck!