Failure does not mean the same thing in sport and in the business world

Leadership: failure is failure.

Leadership: failure is failure. 1024 614 Bruno Sireyjol

You’ve probably seen and perhaps reacted to the video of Giannis Antetokounmpo answering a journalist’s question about the Bucks’ season: “should we consider the Bucks’ season a failure”. Yes, Mr. Journalist, you don’t get promoted every year, but that doesn’t mean your career is a failure. Yes, failures are small steps towards success. Yes, you have to accept the good days as well as the bad. Clichés.

While the values, norms, and beliefs of sports can be inspiring – another cliché -the business world is quite different. An essential element is missing from Antetokounmpo’s “benevolent” – final cliché – comment: what was the plan and the goals ? The best team of the regular season and favourites for the title, they were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs. Unless the goal was to win one game out of 5, isn’t it therefore legitimate to ask if their season is a failure? Of course, it is.

As is the performance of the French rugby team, despite those who were enthusiastic about Fabien Galthié’s “taking a high road” after the defeat against South Africa. Let’s remind ourselves that a good general never disconnects from his troops in defeat. Especially when a captain’s passion for victory and his quest for justice call for empathy and compassion, not a public debate. Closed parenthesis.


Failure is an event, resilience is a skill:


In our article on Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog”, we recalled how passion and resilience are the two primary characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and leaders. Being on a journey, falling and getting up again is a process.

Beyond exalted slogans and out-of-context quotes, it’s time to take off the rose-tinted glasses and face up to the uncomfortable reality of business: failure is failure. Missing goals is failure. We need to distinguish between the raw event from the improvement process, the abrupt observation from the culture of acceptance, the door in the face from the physical and psychological ability to bounce back.

The predominant discourse presents failure as a cornerstone of success, a necessary evil on the path to improvement. Let’s face it: failure is not just a hiccup in the grand scheme of progression. When we fail in the corporate world, we don’t emerge stronger or wiser. We are faced with doubt, sometimes our own limitations, and with the huge gap between theory and real life. What candidate would proudly display a “failure” badge on their LinkedIn profile?



Business values are not the same as sports values:


Performance is mentioned first as a corporate value by 85% of our clients. This means that achieving results is an absolute priority and decisions are made accordingly, whatever the devotees of benevolence may say. At best, these decisions trigger to ad ‘hoc coaching, and let’s acknowledge here that sports techniques such as constructive feedback and positive visualization have their place in business. At worst, they lead to sanctions or even separation. There’s little room here for grand speeches about failure as a motivational factor.

Failure in business is not a glamorous accessory to performance. The culture of performance does not go well with the glorification of failure. Failure must therefore be named and accepted as such in the light of quantified objectives and defined deadlines. If you see it differently, you will be reminded. And that’s normal. If failure doesn’t exist, then anything goes: complacency, deresponsibilization, inattention to results, or, conversely, reckless risk-taking.

On the other hand, business can and should draw inspiration from sports values, especially to smooth out the excesses – authoritarianism, individualism, or anxiety- that a hypertrophied corporate culture and values focused solely on performance can generate. But these values must not remain aspirational. Culture and values cannot be decided or declared. They are built over the long term. While the myths and legends that underlie them sometimes refer to glaring failures from which the organization has recovered, culture and values are the result of a much more complex process in business than for a starting five in basketball.


Let’s stop believing that the perception and management of failure in sports are transferable to the business world. Let’s admit that failure in the professional world must be named and recognized differently. Only then can we create an honest dialogue about performance and success on the one hand, and work calmly on failure management on the other, whether through the art of mastering difficult conversations or acquiring the essential skills that count for a leader, not those of a coach.

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