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Don't Let a Setback, Set You Back. Make Defeat Your Fuel!

Make defeat fuel your small business success
My blog subjects come from many directions and situations. Most often, from client-related or my own business-related experiences. Now and then, though, a current event or something I read or view triggers a potential subject.

Recently, Gatorade has been running a series of commercials with the theme “Make Defeat Your Fuel.” These ads, featuring famous athletes from Michael Jordan to Peyton and Eli Manning to Matt Ryan, among others, each recounting episodes of failure that fueled their resolve to get better. There are valuable lessons here. All entrepreneurs and small business owners suffer defeats, failures, setbacks. It comes with the territory. It’s how you rebound, learn and grow from them that makes the difference in small business success.

How do you keep things like the loss of a critical contract from destroying your business?

You’re not going to go undefeated in your business. You will suffer setbacks and failures; some that may be devastating to both you and your business. As that learned philosopher, Rocky Balboa stated, “It’s about how you can get hit and keep moving forward. …That’s how winning is done!”

But how do you keep things like the loss of a critical client or contract, a product glitch that causes a recall and costs thousands of dollars, a major customer going bankrupt, from destroying you and your business? And how do you rebound, learn and grow from it? Let me help. Here are six action steps that can help you both weather the setback and use it to fuel improvement and growth:

No excuses. Be honest with yourself and your team.

After any failure, defeat or setback, always do a serious post-mortem to determine why it happened and what you can maybe do to avoid the same mistake in the future. Make it a part of your culture. Hold people accountable without blame. Mistakes are part of business, and we are all human, and all make them. But honesty must rule the day. No excuses; just honest assessment and a plan to do it better/differently the next time you face the same circumstances.

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

Learn from every setback.

One of the things that separate great athletes from merely good ones, great teams from just okay ones, is the ability to learn from setbacks. And most important, to have a short memory. That is, learn the lesson, save it, but forget the experience and move on. In your business, you and your team will screw up; sometimes, royally.

How you handle those failures will determine how much you, your team and your company will grow. Make each a teachable moment, a learning experience. Save the lesson, but lose the memory of the failure. Famed German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. said it much more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

Get back on the horse.

Don’t let a setback, set you back. Get right back “on the horse,” and in the game. The road to success is built on blocks of failure. Failure is part of life and, certainly part of business. Don’t let a setback shake your confidence. Move on to the next situation, opportunity or customer. Attack it as if the defeat never happened (except building on the lesson it taught you). It may have been your first major failure, but it won’t be your last.

Use defeat as your motivator

As the commercial says, “make defeat your fuel.” Each of the little vignettes in the commercial tells what each athlete used to fuel their motivation. Use the lesson as your motivation to get better. My fraternity in college was Tau Kappa Epsilon, who as a local college chapter, failed to gain entry to a well-known national fraternity. From that rejection, in what has been memorialized in a founder speech known as “Opportunity out of Defeat,” the founders created TKE, now one of the largest national fraternities.

Don’t play “not to lose.”

Nobody wants to fail, but, sometimes, entrepreneurs or their companies will try to avoid any failure. If you play “not to lose,” you can’t give 100%. You’re always holding something back, fearing the defeat more than embracing the potential victory. If failure is not an option, then neither is success.

Fun doesn’t reduce your intensity (and, often, helps you absorb the lesson of the loss).

Being motivated by defeat doesn’t mean you and your team have to be serious all the time. If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know that I believe fun should be a part of business. If you’re not having fun, defeat can be devastating. And fun doesn’t have to reduce either your motivation or your intensity. In fact, it can enhance it.

Ever watch athletes that are truly enjoying what they are doing. Even when they make an error, blow a major assignment, they move on, and within minutes they are back smiling, having fun at what they are doing. Have fun at what you’re doing; it will help you absorb a setback and get back on track, faster.

Don’t let a setback set you back. Use it as a learning experience and a motivator to both get better and to drive your success.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

Have you had a defeat or failure that you learned from and motivated you to get better?

Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.

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