Hopefully you’ve gotten in some time to play this summer. It may be physical play at the beach—a game of catch or frisbee. Or perhaps it’s more mental play, and you’re relishing low-key evenings with family and friends to play board games or cards.
Play has a lot of valuable lessons for us. It turns out that playing games amplifies important executive leadership skills. The most popular attributes include:
- Active listening
- Deep observation
- Building a strategy outlined by tactics
- The ability to anticipate what’s next
But there’s another significant lesson from play: Loss.
Learning how to lose may arguably be the most important benefit of engaging in play. As children, we inherently understood that when we faced off with the neighborhood kids for a game of kickball, there was a 50% chance that we would lose. In fact, that was part of the allure of the challenge.
Losing is an inevitable part of play. Here are seven qualities we gain when we lose:
The etymology of humility can be traced to the Latin humus, literally “on the ground.” Being forced down through loss doesn’t necessary feel good, but you must admit it’s great for building perspective. And that’s what being humble is all about: less focus on oneself, and extending your point of view to consider others.
If you truly want to innovate over the long haul, then you’ll need to develop a healthy portion of resilience. That’s because the path to innovation is littered with mistakes and mishaps. Losing helps us accumulate the wherewithal to follow through, to show up again and commit.
When you lose, it’s a huge opportunity to not take yourself too seriously. If you’re honest with yourself, there’s probably some self-effacing moment you can find. The ability to laugh at a situation provides a buffer and softens the blow to the ego. Plus, laughter is a catalyst for our body to emit serotonin, so it’s good for your health.
At the end of the day, everything is all about the build. Say to yourself, “Because of that, I now can do/consider/incorporate _______.” You never fully arrive, so don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Instead, identify what the circumstance of loss helps you incorporate into your evolving tool kit.
Every situation in which we have lost or failed should prompt us to reflect and practice self-inquiry. Deep reflection spurs us to unpack what went wrong as well as what we can learn from others.
Modeling constructive behaviors
Your colleagues are observing not only how you behave in the good times, but also how you respond to defeat. So keep this in mind when you or your team lose. Modeling any of the above behaviors will serve as excellent reminders to your team of how to conduct themselves.
The expression “game knows game” is relevant here. Your ability to offer respect for the opponent who beat you—thereby encouraging mutual respect—is super important. This is one of the admirable traits of the character Coach Ted Lasso in the Apple TV+ series.
If we are self-aware and open to growth in even the most difficult or adverse circumstances, loss can help us advance as leaders.
Natalie Nixon, PhD, is a creativity strategist, global keynote speaker, the author of the award-winning The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work, and the president of Figure 8 Thinking.