It just ended this week. March Madness spilled over into April. It was a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat end to college basketball season. While UConn defeated Kentucky in the final, the NCAA tournament was full of sub texts and life lessons. One of the reasons sports captures our imagination is that it showcases our hopes, dreams and aspirations. Even if we aren’t suited up and out on the floor, at some level, we all want to win.

BasketballThe harsh reality is that leaders don’t always win. In the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament, there were a lot of busted brackets. Little known teams upset the “big dogs” of college basketball. Number one seeds were beaten by number 15 seed teams. It happens nearly every year.

In the first round of this year’s tournament, Duke University played Mercer University. It was a proverbial David and Goliath match-up. And like life, you should be careful about betting on the underdog. Mercer pulled off a monster upset by beating powerhouse Duke 78-71. Upsets happen. Quite regularly. But what happened after the game is the real story.

After meeting with his own team, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in college basketball history, went to visit the other team. I know. It seems odd. Of course, it’s normal to do the obligatory handshake with the opposing coach. But Coach K wanted to personally congratulate the Mercer players for one of this season’s biggest upsets, and arguably the biggest in Mercer history.

That story makes for some great life lessons about what to do when you lose. Here are three suggestions.

Accept Responsibility – Regardless of the refs, player injuries or any other factors, the best leaders own the outcome. It’s their team. They are responsible. Win or lose. Mark Miller does a masterful job with this topic when he writes about accepting responsibility as a character issue in his book, The Heart of Leadership.

Basketball HoopBe Gracious – None of us like to lose. It is painful. Arrogance walks away with head bowed. Humility congratulates the winners. Leaders need to model the same grace in defeat we should demonstrate in victory. [Tweet “What we do when we lose says more about our leadership character than what we do when we win.”]

Learn From Defeat – Zig Ziglar always said, “If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.” [Tweet “Every loss has a potential to improve our game.”] If we refuse to learn from our defeats, we have wasted our pain. When I really think about it, I’ve probably learned more through failure than I have through successes. Leaders are learners. We can learn both in winning and losing.

The Duke Blue Devils lost the game – but Coach Krzyzewski proved once again, he’s definitely a  winner and a leader!


QUESTION: What additional things have you learned about making the most out of losing? I’d love to learn from you in the comment section below.



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