One of the prevalent sports metaphors that's applied to business today is that our success comes down to an ongoing accumulation of wins and losses. Put up more 'W's than 'L's throughout your career, and you emerge on top. Rack up more losses, and you may end up feeling that you could have had a greater impact on your team or your business.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes everything has a binary outcome; you either win or you lose; it's a zero or a one. There's no room for the gray areas and no room for learning from your mistakes and coming back stronger. 

Rather than taking this black or white approach, the most successful leaders think in terms of winning or learning. As Nelson Mandela once said; "I never lose. I either win or learn."

The power of believing that you either win or learn is that it provides a higher degree of resiliency and determination. It creates what bestselling author and essayist Nassim Taleb calls "anti-fragility" or the ability to be elastic and to flex appropriately around the challenges you face.

Here are three simple ways to adopt a "you win or learn" mindset in your leadership.

1. Reflect on what went wrong.

We all screw up. Whether it's missing out on a sale we should have made, backing a failed product roll-out strategy, or even just losing our cool when we shouldn't. It's inevitable to who we are as humans. 

Rather than etching each individual failure in the loss side, pause and reflect on what went wrong and what you can learn from it. Take a few minutes individually or as a team to ask what went well and what they could do differently next time.

Spending just a few minutes on this debrief allows you to put the episode in context and to extract the key lessons from it.

2. Make the necessary adjustments.

It's not enough to know why something failed, next you need to put in place the mechanisms to ensure it won't happen again. Sometimes that involves building a layer of process to ensure you and your team don't drop the ball again. Sometimes it means looking for key triggers that may cause you to act a certain way, and sometimes it means depending on other people in your team for support in those areas you know are a weakness.

Even better if you can find someone in your organization who will hold you accountable to making the adjustments or changes you think you need to make so that the next time you get an opportunity to play, you're ready for it. 

3. Give yourself another opportunity "at-bat."

Finally, give yourself the opportunity to go at it again. Rather than shy away from the challenges you face, actively go looking for them; volunteer when they come up, put yourself back in the game. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, give yourself another chance 'at-bat.'

If you missed a big deal you should have won, build momentum and confidence back up with another couple of smaller deals. If you lost your cool with someone on your team, take them out for coffee and rebuild the relationship. If your latest marketing campaign bombed, get back to the basics of what worked for you before.

Know that you are not defined by the sum total of your wins and losses. You are defined by the strength of character that you bring to work every day, by the impact you have on the people around you, and by the courage to keep going even when you swing and miss. 

Published on: Sep 23, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.