Losing is a part of business. Whether it’s the literal loss of a key account or client, or a slip in performance, business leaders must address the loss and what it means to their teams. Having a game plan to talk about losing is an important part of an executive communication strategy.
Business leaders can learn a thing or two about how to talk about losing from athletic coaches. The NCAA tournament is full of phenomenal athletes and teams striving to win, but not every team will. In fact, most teams in the tournament will suffer a loss.
When the final buzzer sounds, a team’s season comes to an end. It is a raw, emotional moment. But good coaches—and good leaders anywhere—prepare for tough moments. They know that what they say to their team in the moments following a loss (especially an upset) is just as important as what they say after a triumphant victory.
What do good leaders say to their teams in the tough times? Like good coaches, they:
- Tell the truth. Hiding from the facts of the matter doesn’t benefit anyone. Neither does playing the victim or putting your head in the sand. Good leaders and coaches analyze the situation and cite the reasons things didn’t work out. Notre Dame’s Mike Brey did this well after his squad’s loss to West Virginia, “I thought our start really hurt us. We were in a 10-0 hole. You’re kind of digging out against them the whole day. It was hard to get over it.”
- Give credit where it’s due. Strong leaders are generous with praise, even if it is for a basketball opponent or a business competitor. When Wisconsin upset Villanova, the Wildcats’ head coach Jay Wright’s said, “That was a great college basketball game that came down to a few plays at the end. Wisconsin made a couple of great offensive plays and then got a couple of stops. That was the difference in a game this close. We played hard too. I’m proud of our guys. But Wisconsin made the big plays late in the game.”
- Reinforce the attitudes and behaviors they desire. Even if the overall news is bleak, leaders can still call out positives. When #1 seed Duke fell to South Carolina, Coach Mike Krzyzewski praised the way his team handled the loss by saying, “I’m disappointed that we didn’t win tonight. But at the end of the season, I want my guys to either be crying because we’ve lost or crying because we’ve just won. And it shows that if you’re not doing one of those, that means you never really became a team. It was never really that important.”
Leading your team through the highs and the lows is good business. Not taking the time to talk about a loss? Now that’s just madness.
Author: Jodi McGee