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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

How to WIN - How a new leader can recover confidence after falling to defeat

This Sunday morning I watched as my son´s basketball team suffered a rare defeat. They sit 4th in their league table and have had a good season so far. The playoffs are within reach. Yet today wasn´t their day. The other team just wanted it more and there were some individual mistakes and a lack of on-court leadership in the last few minutes that cost us the game.

That is sport.

That is life.

The captain of our team now has a vital task to understand what went wrong today. More importantly, though, his response is what counts most. The captain must now lead the way, puff his chest out, put the defeat behind him, and be an example to the team.

But for a young 17-year-old, isn’t that a lot to ask, especially when the captain is feeling low and perhaps blaming himself for the result?

In the Corporate world, the same situation comes up time and time again, especially for new managers and leaders.

When difficult moments come up few people want to be in the leader´s position. Less still when the leader themself is seen to have made a miscall of judgment, a mistake or suffered what they see in their mind as a “defeat”.

In these moments, leaders with experience seem to know how to shrug off the impact of the events and get back to work.

However inexperienced leaders are often left in a state of shock. They question their worth. They blow their mistakes up in their minds and lose confidence. The result can often be something like watching a tortoise retreat into its shell.

How do I know this? Because I have been there! In my early years as a leader, with a demanding CEO, I become almost terrified of making a mistake. Every criticism felt like it eroded my self-worth. My response was to avoid taking decisions or being overly visible. The less I did, the less chance I had of being seen to screw up. But a leader who doesn´t move isn´t leading, right?

The method I found that made all the difference for me came from one of my heroes, a certain Mr. Michael Phelps.

Phelps is the greatest swimmer and greatest Olympian ever. He competed in five Olympics, winning 28 medals. 23 of them were gold.

Phelps wrote in his book “No Limits” that his coach, Bob Bowman, had a simple acronym to use when overcoming the bitter taste of defeat and feeling of despondency. The answer is to focus on the WIN, asking the question:

W hat’s

I mportant

N ow?

Put simply, it entails doing the most important thing that needs to be done, right now, with no delay.

Peter Drucker said something similar. He, in fact, summed Leadership up in a simple, single phrase:

“Put first things first”

Following Drucker`s wisdom and Phelps’ advice, the acronym “WIN” is all-powerful.

W hat’s

I mportant

N ow?

gets us over the defeat as quickly as possible and back on the path to success and a return to victory.

Focusing on “WIN” does the following:

1) It gets you into the present. Thinking in the now

2) It stops you from rumination, from running things over in your head, from feeling sorry for yourself

3) It focuses on a solution

4) It moves you into positive action

5) It gives you a feeling of agency, of control rather than feeling like a victim

A simple three-letter acronym has worked for me time and time again.

So, had a hard time? Made a big mistake? Questioning your self-worth as a leader? Maybe thinking of quitting?

Ask yourself

W hat’s

I mportant

N ow?

Get back up, get back out there, and…


If you would like any help or advice with this technique or on how to recover from difficult events, please book me for a free introductory coaching session.

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