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The greatest victories start with defeat

10 November, 2015
beyond-swimmers
Blog

When is the victory greatest? When do you learn the most? Is it when you head the high road to success? Or is it when you overcome difficult hurdles, almost giving up and despite all odds finally celebrate your success?

We usually use our own success as a starting point, when we tell about our achievements and skills. It is only natural to talk about victories instead of failures; however, I believe that you learn more from the disappointments you get from defeat than from the thrill you get from success.

In the late summer, nine other enthusiasts and I signed up for an attempt to climb the highest mountain in Europe - Mont Blanc - in the name of charity. The plan was to climb the mountain and thereby raise money for the Child Accident Prevention Foundation. We started the intense training around six months prior to the expedition, which included sessions on safety, strength, fitness, climbing and trekking. The preparation was aimed at converting mountain-novices in to semi-professional climbers, who had a fair chance of reaching the top of Mont Blanc.

The preparation went well and culminated with a training camp in the mountains surrounding Mont Blanc, where we were to get accustomed to the heights and environment. We were ready and everything was set for us to start climbing the mountain the next morning. Then came the shock: The temperature on the mountain was too high and therefore the risk of an avalanche was too high, so the climb was canceled due to security reasons. It was a massive disappointment and a shattering defeat for the whole team. After six months of intense preparation, the expected sweetness of victory transformed into a major defeat within a few minutes. And there was nothing we could do about it!

We sat in the camp at the base of the mountain and we were back to square one. Several of the team members wanted to go home, some wanted to climb the mountain despite the danger and some wanted to climb other mountains. The team was about to break up because we were all frustrated and about to give up. The reactions were completely understandable and natural and exactly the same as you find in business, when defeat hits you; when you lose an important customer, an important project or miss an important delivery. Most teams have experienced the feeling of losing a battle and the bitter frustration, which comes along with it.

So how do move on as a team and turn the defeat into a victory?

During that afternoon, our team went through an intense process.

  • What could we have done differently? We concluded that we had done all that was possible and had prepared ourselves optimally, so there was nothing we could have done differently. We could have chosen another time of year, but that was practically impossible.
  • We let the decision fall into place. We all shared our feelings and positions. We actually had five “mountainside councils” during the day and ended up agreeing on the next steps. The leader of the expedition played a vital role as promoter and motivator for the decision. Leadership is very important in this phase to keep up the motivation.
  • We defined a new and motivating goal. We choose to climb the sister mountain, named Mont Blanc du Tacul, which is both challenging and magical. It was essential to keep the motivation after the defeat and quickly set a new and realistic goal.

The whole team climbed the mountain and we all had a fantastic experience, where the defeat turned into a feeling of victory and winning.

On the way home, I realized that I had witnessed a study in management and team dynamics. In less than 36 hours, I had experienced how a group of individualists turned into a team, suffering defeat and celebrating victory together and how we ended up succeeding through realization, teamwork and re-focus.

In business, defeat are inevitable and we all experience them, however it is important to prepare your team to handle the defeats, learn from them and move on. That way the defeat becomes a another necessary detour to success, rather than the rule.

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