We welcome InnerWill Board Member, Richard Coughlan, as a contributor to our weekly blog.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
– John Quincy Adams

The word inspiration can be defined as: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation, the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions, or the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.

InnerWill’s newest series, Inspired By, is dedicated to honoring the people and practices that have uplifted and influenced us into who we are and what we do every single day.

It is no fun to finish second, especially when it seemed that first place was a real possibility. Maybe another runner passed you on the final stretch of the race or a fellow golfer made a birdie at the final hole. Maybe another candidate did just a bit better than you on the final job interview or a fellow applicant’s essay impressed the scholarship committee, leaving you empty-handed.

In situations like these, it can be difficult to show grace. When we feel frustrated, disappointed, angry, or bewildered, we are more likely to act in ways that reflect these emotions. Many of us lash out, find someone to blame, give up, or retreat. We devote time and energy to thinking about how or why things might have turned out differently. We complain to others that what happened was unfair, undeserved, unexpected or unbelievable.

But that’s not true of all of us. Some special individuals handle these events with considerable class. In a few recent instances, I witnessed teens and twentysomethings showing maturity at times when many adults would have struggled to do so.

I’m inspired by these gracious losers.

Their actions reflect a selflessness that must serve them well in other realms. To resist the temptation to rue the outcome is to show just how much you care about the interests of another person. When we truly appreciate the opportunity to compete for a job, a scholarship or a championship, we give ourselves a larger chance to learn from the experience, regardless of the outcome. Appreciating the talents of a competitor and finding ways to improve our own performance makes success even more likely in the future.

But most of the actions I just described happen only in the minds of those who finish second. It takes another gear to seek out and congratulate the winner or to speak positively about a fellow competitor. Composing a thoughtful, hand-written note to a hiring manager to thank her for considering you requires deliberation and discipline. But following through on these actions is the strongest signal of your true core values.

I know I am not the only one who notices these displays. I’ve heard more than one set of parents congratulate another set for the behavior of a son or daughter who failed to finish first. I know hiring managers who have conveyed to gracious candidates that they look forward to working together someday. And I know students who did not get a scholarship as freshmen, but nonetheless, landed multiple awards in subsequent years, often without even applying.

Given the traits found in gracious losers, I have a feeling that the runner-up of today becomes the leader of tomorrow fairly regularly. We might all pause to think about why that is true and what lessons we might draw from it.

But what about those winners? We ought to examine their behavior, too.

Those who show humility when things are going well are also inspiring to me. These days, it sometimes seems that every victory is accompanied by a self-congratulatory picture and caption. I’m all for celebrating the hard work that leads to a win of some kind but must say I have great admiration for victors who acknowledge those who helped them find success. When they take a moment to praise their fellow competitors, to thank volunteers who made an event possible or to speak about the joy that comes from participating, they also show selflessness.

The positive or negative actions of these winners can have a large impact on how others respond and will shape the lasting impression that observers have of the event itself. Boasts and other self-centered remarks lead to resentment. Sincere compliments and statements of gratitude lead to appreciation , reciprocity and a desire to compete again.

The next time you observe an event with winners and losers, whether it is a cross-country race or a business pitch competition, take note of the actions of those who finished first and second.

What examples of gracious losers and humble winners have inspired you?



Richard Coughlan

Richard Coughlan

Dr. Richard Coughlan serves as a Board Member for InnerWill. He is a member of the faculty of the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, where he has taught courses on negotiations, ethics, and decision-making. Richard’s views on business appear regularly in national media outlets including Bloomberg Business Week, National Public Radio, and Fast Company. His research focuses on loyalty and accountability in organizations, with a particular interest in the values based decision-making processes of individuals.

close slider

    Subscribe to the InnerWill email for inspirational stories and tips on how to build engagement, trust, and success at work and beyond – delivered right to your inbox every Monday morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.