UCLA football coach Red Sanders once said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Like most kids growing up, for me the importance of finishing first or winning was always stressed. I thought that second place was the same as last. Losing was a source of shame and bitterness.

Brandon Steiner, the owner and founder of the huge sports memorabilia company that bears his name, gave me some good advice recently. He told me that losing isn't the opposite of winning; it's a part of winning.

The more I think about his statement, the more I agree. However, I would make one small change: Losing isn't the opposite of winning; it CAN be part of winning. I clarify that because losing can also become a habit. But if you use losing as a learning experience, then you can be headed for success.

In the sports world, how many times do you hear championship teams discuss how a certain loss triggered their championship run? It served as a wake-up call, an opportunity to see where they could improve. Losing helped them change their mind-set. It demonstrated that in many cases, you must learn how to win. And losing provides a powerful lesson.

Few people win all the time, but you can be better prepared to play the game and compete if you have experienced losing and learned what it takes to win.

Your goal should be to improve in areas where you have weaknesses and seek challenges that will help you grow. A good competitor will help you point out your mistakes and weaknesses, so pay attention.

For me, sales is a competitive sport. Whenever I win or lose an account, I want to know why. Debriefing is critical. I have no problem being straightforward and asking clients for feedback. I want to know how I can improve.

If you lose an account, ask for a meeting within the week. Tell your prospect you respect their decision and do not want to change their mind. You just want to learn and improve. At the meeting, never be antagonistic. You are there to listen and learn.

My good friend, leadership guru John Maxwell, cautions: "Losing gives us an opportunity to learn, but many people do not seize it. And when they don't, losing really hurts." Maxwell said it takes discipline to do the right thing when everything goes wrong. His book "Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn" provides the following road map:

Humility — the spirit of learning.

Reality — the foundation of learning.

Responsibility — the first step of learning.

Improvement — the focus of learning.

Hope — the motivation of learning.

Teachability — the pathway of learning.

Adversity — the catalyst for learning.

Problems — opportunities for learning.

Bad experiences — the perspective for learning.

Change — the price of learning.

Maturity — the value of learning.

In "Peanuts," Charlie Brown is walking off the baseball field with Lucy, his head down and totally dejected.

"Another ball game lost! Good grief!" he says. "I get tired of losing. Everything I do, I lose!"

Lucy replies: "Look at it this way, Charlie Brown. We learn more from losing than we do from winning."

To which Charlie replies, "That makes me the smartest person in the world!"

Mackay's Moral: Your ability to learn from your losses is the biggest win of all.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.