Dignified in defeat

This article is published in the February edition of the magazine, Management Compass

Defeat march

Bow out gracefully, and register a lasting positive impression in people’s mind

In the final of the Television dance programme Nach Baliye III, after Rakhi Sawant and her partner Abhishek lost, they faded away in the background and didn’t return to show up as runners-up. They neither congratulated the winners nor thought it necessary to be courteous to judges, who had encouraged them all along. Cinestar Salman Khan also had to comment that winning and losing is a part of life and they should show some sportsman spirit. In the other dance programme, Jhalak dikhla jaa, all the three judges spoke very highly of Sandhya Mridul throughout the programme but she still lost to Prachi Desai. Last year, it was more or less the same scenario, where, despite the judges speaking very highly of Shweta Salve, she still lost to Mona Singh. Both Shweta and Sandhya were more dignified in defeat. Why is one person able to take defeat so graciously and not everybody?

Talking of sportsman spirit brings to mind one of the finest sportsmen India produced, Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj. Though he was extremely talented and gave some of the most established players a run for their money in his time, he never ever won a single grand slam. Whenever he is asked whether or not he regretted it, his reply is, “That would be looking at the glass half empty. I try to look at it as glass half full. The atmosphere and the ambience at Wimbledon makes participation itself a great achievement.” In this context, one can also mention former cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. After being dropped from the Indian cricket team for poor batting form, it took him almost a year and a half to make a comeback. Considering that he had been playing for almost a decade and in the last five years as captain, being dropped must have been a huge disappointment. It is like a managing director of a company being removed and asked to try to rejoin along with other trainees in full public glare. Though in some quarters, he is deemed the greatest cricket captain ever, in metal strength and resilience, his stock he is even higher. If this is dadagiri (Ganguly is often referred to as dada), I am all for it.

Sawant hardly has such a reputation to speak of. Maybe, she could learn a thing or two from Amritraj. In the good old days when only Doordarshan was there or before that, a talented dancer could not even dream of such platforms to showcase her talent. That apart, despite the proliferation of reality shows on television, when one considers India’s total population, the percentage of people who actually get to display their talent is still abysmally small. One should consider oneself fortunate if one is able to participate and even if defeated, be thankful for the experience which is what Shweta Salve did when she said the despite the fact that she lost, this was her first big exposure despite trying for several years. One should also keep in mind that this is a reality show and though they are indicative of popularity, they may not reflect real merit. Lots of bad commercial films are hits and good art films struggle at the box office. In the practical world, a good actor like Govinda may do better commercially than a brilliant actor like Naseeruddin Shah but that cannot obviously be the sole criteria for judgment of success. Everything that is good is not necessarily successful and vice- versa. Though god alone how much of that applies to Ms Sawant, she could have also taken solace from that fact.

Apart from artists, scientists and inventors too are known for their patience and persistence. When a young reporter asked how it felt to fail 2000 times before he got the light bulb to work, Thomas Edison replied “ I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000 step process”. This was rephrasing the experience in a way which reveals a positive attitude that enables such persistence. The Wright brothers had to try 805 times before they could achieve sustained flight. When he was constructing a rocket that the Germans hoped would destroy London and end World war II, Wemher von Braun was asked how many changes he had sent to the factories, the ridiculous figure was 65,121. Van braun acknowledged so many mistakes and estimated that it would take 5000 more before the rocket was ready. It takes real passion to go through all this and one wonders whether his bosses would have had second thoughts had they known it would take so many trials. All these people really live up to the famous saying “Failure is the stepping stone to
success”

In this context, the most famous management example that comes to mind is that of Lee Iacocca, who was President of the Ford Motor Company before being humiliated and fired by Henri Ford II. The change in circumstances would have broken a lesser man. His new office at the Chrysler corporation was in a small cubicle in a warehouse with cracked linoleum floor and two plastics cups on his table. In contrast, at Ford, he was served by white collar workers at his huge, spacious office. This particular chapter of his autobiography makes the most compelling reading on how he motivated himself and bit by bit, step by step was able to gradually turn around Chrysler and become a national hero. He was even considered an ideal candidate for the Presidency of the United states for quite some time. None of this would have been possible had he not been able to keep his chin up when he was down in the dumps.

It would be a gross injustice if one were not to take an example from politics. The obvious example that comes to mind is the most revered President of United States, Abraham Lincoln. He failed in business at the age of 21 ; was defeated in a legislative race at age 22; failed again in business at age 24; overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26; had a nervous breakdown at age 27; lost a congressional race at age 34; lost a senatorial race at age 45; failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47; lost a senatorial race at age 49; and was elected president of the United States at age 52.. To face serious health, relationship repeated occupation failures and yet rise to the highest office in the land over a stretch of 32 years is a fantastic achievement. Another of their greatest Presidents Franklin. D, Roosevelt who is remembered for his leadership during both the great depression and World War II. He was stricken with Polio when he was 39. Yet he remained active in politics and was elected thrice the President of United States of America, the only President to be elected three times.

Talking of the handicapped President brings to mind Helen Adams Keller , the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college who went on to become an author, activist and lecturer. Her sight and hearing were destroyed by brain fever before she was two.. She was living as a deaf-mute apart from being blind. After her teacher Annie Sullivan was able to make contact with her mind through the sense of touch, she could read and write in Braille within three years. Though she could talk only in sign language upto the age of ten, her determination to speak enabled her to enter preparatory school by the time she was sixteen. She lectured on behalf of the blind and the deaf in more than twenty five countries and her books are best sellers and translated in more than fifty languages. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ highest two civilian honors and in 1965 ,she was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

The movie “Black” was inspired by her life . Nobody can guarantee long term commercial success as it depends upon the forces of demand and supply which is probably why the Bhagvad Gita advises to act but not be obsessed with the fruits of the action. However, being able to take setbacks in one’s stride improves one’s chances with factors that are in one’s control. Transitory periods of set backs in between may seem like eternity but they maybe life’s way of molding us for a higher purpose for the next phase of our lives. Just as a lower bottom in the stock market can result in a higher top in the long run if taken positively, unless short term failures are taken in the right spirit and attempts are made to learn from them, one’s long term future can be precisely like the movie-Black.

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