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A CLOSE SECOND

By Chuck Violand

June 23, 2014

In 1983, Jackie Joyner-Kersee finished second in the Heptathlon in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics. She was a mere five points behind the Australian gold medalist, Glynis Nunn.

Four years later, in 1988, Joyner-Kersee competed in the same event in Seoul, South Korea, winning the gold medal with a world record score of 7,291 points—a record that stands to this day.

I must confess I’m a sucker for the underdog. The long-shot. The one everyone else has written off. The competitor who gets in the fight with limited talent and scarce resources but gives it everything he has. Sometimes he comes out on top. Sometimes he doesn’t. But he always comes out a winner.

When you work as hard as Joyner-Kersee did to prepare for an Olympic event and then fall short when you were so close, it is easy to feel defeated. But whether or not that’s how she felt, her subsequent actions proved otherwise. Joyner-Kersee spent the next four years working with her coach to refine her skills, compete in and win world class competitions, and focus on redemption in the 1988 Olympics.

Coming in second by such a thin margin motivated her to dig in deeper.

How we respond to adversities can say a lot about ourselves as competitors and as business owners.

Some time ago, one of our clients found themselves called onto a good-sized project. This was the kind of project he had positioned his company to handle, and it came from a customer with whom he had worked hard to build a relationship. Shortly after the project began, an outside controlling interest asked to have our client removed, so they could have their own contractor on the job instead.

It would have been easy for my client to cry foul, to bad-mouth the company that took over the project, or even to resort to legal remedies. But he didn’t.

Instead, he took the high road, letting his customer know he would be available if needed and that, if the customer had any questions throughout the project, he would be happy to provide answers.

My client redoubled his marketing efforts to both the customer and to the outside interest, focusing on the areas that had been brought into question on the project. While they may have come in second on that one, they were committed to winning the next.

The story comes full circle. My client was awarded another project by the same customer who felt the other contractor hadn’t performed well on the original job.

Naturally, every situation doesn’t end up this well. But it isn’t always how they end up; it’s how they’re handled when they happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s a project, a critical hire who accepts a job offer from another company, or just a run of the mill financial setback. It’s the lessons we learn as we move through each situation that’s important.

Sometimes in business, just as in life, winning second or third place has a better prize waiting for us than the medal we would have won for coming in first. Sometimes we just have to be patient enough and observant enough to recognize it.