How To Be Graceful In Defeat

Posted on December 16, 2011.

I was recently struck by an article about Rick Waggoner, the former CEO of GM, and his graceful handling of his departure as a condition of the 2009 US Government bailout of the company.  It is such a stark example because there are so many cases of how not to leave a position, especially when things did not go well.  Here are some of the things that you should do, and some that you shouldn't:

You should take some time to recover and gain some perspective. Waggoner hadn't given a public speech since his ouster in 2009 until this month.  For someone whose exit was as public as his, being out of sight and out of mind can be a very good thing. Even those who aren't in public positions need time to get over the stress and emotional costs of defeat. 

You should not skewer your former employer, or whoever came out on the winning side of your conflict! OK, this is pretty basic, but how many people still do it?  Especially in this social media happy culture, keep your mouth shut and don't comment if you can't say anything positive.  In his speech, Waggoner praised all the good things that working for GM had done for him.  No sour grapes were evident and he doesn't come off a whiney jerk, as many of his counterparts have.

You should own up to your mistakes and learn from them. The worst examples of poor losers go out blaming everything from the economy to their mothers.  Grow up and admit that you weren't perfect. Trust me, everyone knows you aren't perfect, except maybe you.

You should not rush out to tell your side of the story to whoever will listen! First of all, you will overestimate how many people really care. Secondly, you will look like someone who just can't let it go, because, well... you can't. Please save us the vanity book on this one and see the first point above.

Something that time and contemplation give you are lessons learned.  Steve Jobs, who was not necessarily graceful about his departure from Apple when he was ousted in 1985, did eventually gain perspective. He shared that perspective in his Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish speech at Stanford in 2005, and it had global impact.

Wouldn't you rather be thought of as a giver of sage advice, than a sore loser?