“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill
The flight from Miami back to California had to be a long one for the San Francisco 49ers. The team squandered a 10-point lead over the final nine minutes in the Super Bowl ― the type of devastating finish that can make a season appear as a complete failure to fans, players and coaches alike.
But when coaches and executives attempt to condense a loss into one play, one bad call, or one poor decision, they are shortchanging what transpired and setting themselves up for failure moving forward. One common misconception that comes with this type of defeat is that if we return the same group with everyone working 10 percent harder next year, we’ll be able to “get over the hump.” Simply put, it’s inaccurate.
There must be a “cooling off” period before making any decisions and moving forward. Emotional decisions are always bad decisions. Leaders need to take time away — and examine every facet by themselves without outside interference and without pre-determined judgments by those who can’t evaluate the circumstances.
Uniting everyone over the loss is the first step toward establishing the future agenda.
Looking for answers after a heartbreaking loss can be lonely. But the path forward can only be drawn by a leader who understands the overall vision. Here are some guiding steps to rebound from heartbreak:
- Don’t complain about the loss, embrace the failure as the lost treasure. In the loss lie the clues to becoming a champion.
- Don’t allow anyone to offer condolences or allow yourself to feel sorry for the outcome. When someone in the organization mentions feeling sorry for you, stop them and remind them there is nothing to feel sad about. We are moving forward.
- Control the message every single day. Over-communicate about the plan moving forward but never mention building off of last year’s team. A new group requires a new game plan. Sell the program at every opportunity you get to talk to the media, the team, the organization. Instead of running away from the press to hide your embarrassment and disappointment, use the media to control the future narrative.
- Don’t tell anyone to work harder. Working harder is not the issue. The core issues are working smarter, improving the planning, detailing the details. When you focus on working harder, then everyone will question, “Didn’t we work hard last year?”
- When changes occur, which they most certainly will, never explain those changes as the path to improvement. We are not improving; we are creating a new means, based on the latest data. Don’t say: “We fired this employee, to hire a new one which, who will then allow us to get over the hurdle.” That is a desperate attempt to win back the team. No one person can get any team over the obstacle; only the team can overcome.
Winston Churchill convinced the British people after Dunkirk that they had won, even though they suffered enormous casualties. He never felt sorry for himself and never allowed anyone to control the narrative he was selling. His obstacles were far more significant than any we could face; yet, he was able to achieve peace, save his nation and persevere.
We can all use a little of Churchill’s method the next time we face an agonizing defeat.