By Steve Adubato, PhD

Being a winner is easy, losing is hard. Sounds simple, right? But when it comes to leadership nothing could be more difficult to deal with than coming up on the short end. Whether it’s in politics, business or sports, how you deal with defeat, in many ways, demonstrates the kind of leader you really are.

Consider New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who decided to drop out of the presidential race after the New Hampshire primary and in doing so spoke with candor and deep emotion not only to his disappointed supporters but to the state of New Jersey and the nation. He acknowledged that he didn’t connect in the way he wanted and needed to. He owned the defeat, stood in front of the cameras and did what he had to do. All of us who have lost or been defeated have had to do the same thing. I know I have – on more occasions than I’d like to admit or acknowledge.

Now, take the case of Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton – one of the most talented athletes ever to step foot on the football field. He is clearly the Most Valuable Player in the NFL but when it came to stepping up and being a true leader after the Panthers lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, Cam Newton came up woefully short. Of course he was disappointed...He was sad…He was hurt...He was embarrassed. Like I said, we’ve all been there – even if the stakes weren’t as high as they are with the Super Bowl – but there was Cam Newton wearing a hoodie, with his face barely shown, giving grumpy one or two word answers to the media in his post-Super Bowl press conference. It was visible he was getting increasingly agitated until, finally, after just a few minutes, without any warning he got up and walked out. That was it. He had had enough.

His explanation was that he doesn’t consider himself a particularly “good loser.” Yet, what Cam Newton didn’t understand was that his pathetic post-Super Bowl performance had nothing to do with being a good or bad loser and everything to do with being a poor leader. A real leader would step up and face the music. He would answer the questions and be there for his teammates, for his fans and for the state he has represented so proudly since joining the team. What we ultimately found out about Cam Newton is that he looks like a great leader after he scores a touchdown, poses in the end zone and gives the football to a little kid. Everyone praises him for doing these great things and he deserves all that praise. However, the measure of a true leader is how he or she deals with things when they don’t go so well. The times Cam Newton doesn’t have a reason to flash his million dollar smile in a post-game press conference. That’s where real leaders are made or broken and Cam Newton showed that ultimately he is a sulking, thin-skinned and shaky leader who you can’t count on when the chips are down. This has nothing to do with football and everything to do with leadership and life.
Me? I want a leader who isn’t only confident and strong when everything is going well. I want a leader who stands tall, faces the heat and makes his teammates and everyone around him feel just a little bit better in the face of defeat.