How Can Leaders Model Losing?

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas A. Edison

In most leadership circles we hear much about winning and success.  I’m not knocking it. We all like to win.

But in leadership, as in life, not every endeavor we undertake results in a win. Sometimes we lose. We don’t need books and webinars on how to win. That comes easy for most. Losing, on the other hand, is another story.

As a sports enthusiasts and player back in the day, we all heard the saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” That’s all good and well if you win but can ring hollow when you lose. In leadership, losing and failure takes on a whole new meaning. We tend to tie our value to our successes and see failure as unacceptable (not that it ever should be), and not as a part of our overall success journey. We forget the big picture.

In his acclaimed book, Failing Forward, John Maxwell states, “One of the greatest problems people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. Instead, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind.” Your approach and attitude toward losing are critical to your leadership.

How you lose or fail as a leader says as much about your leadership as does winning. How will you model it? 

Here are three ways as a leader you can model losing. Weigh them carefully, one day you will need this.

You model losing with your humility

At the end of the day, nothing is more humbling as a loss. Losing has a way of keeping you humble and grounded as a leader. Not that you always want to end up on the losing end of things, but it is an indication that the journey to success is also littered with failures along the way. Losing is a not so subtle way of learning that you don’t know it all and remaining humble is important. At times, the best thing that can happen to you is to experience a loss. A loss is a great teacher.

You model losing with your integrity

In the event of losing, be sure not to lose your integrity. Be humble and gracious. Don’t blame others for your loss and be sure to accept responsibility. Losing shows that you have skin in the game and that you were willing to take some risks. There are worse things in a leaders life than losing. You can learn from your mistakes and live to fight another day.  But when you compromise your character and lose your integrity you’ve lost the most significant battle of all.

You model losing with your resolve

Thomas Edison’s attitude towards failure is a great example of resolve. He experienced setbacks (a fire destroyed his lab) and suffered numerous hardships. He is remembered not for his defeatist attitude but for having a positive one. Thirty days after that fire destroyed his lab he put forth the first phonograph.

The battles you win and lose as a leader is a reflection of your skills and judgment. How you lose is a reflection of your character and your heart. What kind of leader will you be? When you are an example of a leader who knows how to lose, you will be a leader who knows how to win, and one worth following. Stay humble, keep your integrity in check, and never lose your resolve.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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