Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

They say the definition of character is what you do when you think no one is looking. The same applies to grace, that sense of dignity one brings to interactions with others.

I was reminded of this the other day when a consultant friend of mine revealed to me that he had lost a piece of business  that he had worked hard to get but at the last moment the deal fell through. A similar thing had happened to me a week earlier so I was prepared to sympathize with his disappointment and anger.  There was some of the former, but none of the latter.

The ancient Romans had a word for maintaining one’s equilibrium, continentia, or self-control. Such a bearing is vital to leadership, and while I am someone who writes, teaches and coaches this topic frequently I myself sometimes fall short of what I preach. That is why is so refreshing to find examples of it in plain and living color.

When we are disappointed the temptation to lash out is very real. We tempt ourselves with "coulda, shoulda, woulda" when in reality those words are meaningless. It does not matter that you lost the opportunity; what matters is what you do next. Moaning and groaning – at least for more than thirty minutes – is pointless.

Sit down and have a conversation with yourself. Consider what you did right as well as what you could have done better to earn the business. Very honestly, you may have done your very best. But it may not have been what the company needed now. Perhaps another provider had more experience, or yes even a relative who worked inside the company.

So learn from the experience. Consider what you will do better the next time. And yes that includes not applying for such work, if you think it is outside your scope or your abilities. Focus on what you can do, as legendary coach John Wooden teaches, rather than what you cannot do.

Living with grace, that is, maintaining your self-control, likely will not mean much in the heat of the moment of disappointment when your blood is boiling and your psyche wounded. But such words will mean something down the line. If you allow them to!


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world's top 25 leadership experts. This article draws upon themes expressed in John's  book, Lead By Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results (Amacom 2008).