Is Winning Everything?

Talent Management

November 6, 2012

by Marshall Goldsmith

As legendary football coach Vince Lombardi famously stated, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”

Less known, though, is his addendum to that chestnut: “If winning isn’t everything, then why do they keep score?”

We should expect to find such total devotion to victory in the world of athletics. For the coach of a sports team, winning really is everything. All the mental and physical preparation is aimed at achieving one simple objective: Beating your opponent by scoring more points, runs, goals, etc.

Is winning everything in business, though?

People in the corporate world certainly speak in those terms with unfailing regularity, and they apply sports and even martial metaphors to their missions.

But do these methods accomplish what they should in the sphere of business – that is, motivating the workforce for the sake of organizational success?

More importantly, what is our definition of winning?

Obviously, the meaning of winning will vary from company to company. But let’s say that it’s defined as beating the main competitor in your industry. What does that mean, really? Getting more of its market share? Taking its high-potential employees? Putting it out of business altogether?

What if the two companies (yours and theirs) are in a field that has become unprofitable? “Winning” in the narrow sense of defeating the other organization ultimately will mean little if both businesses fail to bring in more money than they’re spending.

Whatever your concept of winning, it needs to serve the well-being of your enterprise. Hence, it might not involve competition with another organization. Granted, competition is usually a great motivator for increased performance.

However, your concept of winning might be a process of continual self-improvement, more akin to a sprinter who attempts to run the 100-yard dash at quicker speeds than a football team looking forward to a weekend match against its big rival.

It’s about pride in the work you do – knowing that you’ve pushed yourself to the best you can be, not because of the other guy out there, but rather, because of the nagging voice inside you.

As talent managers, you should understand what your company needs to fulfill its purpose and what you have to do to help it get there.

Think about what workforce challenges stand between your organization’s overall mission and how you can help it surmount those obstacles.

But even that’s not enough – there’s more to performance than just winning.

From an individual point of view, having genuine interest and excitement in doing what it takes to achieve those goals is as important as actually achieving them, if not more so.

It’s much harder to find the will to win if you don’t believe in what you’re doing in the first place, and even if you do succeed, your victories will ring hollow.

Sure, you might be able to run fast, but what does it matter if music is your real passion? For you, placing first in a 5K will never compare to playing back up in a band.

Therefore, it’s important that you not only have a clear understanding of your organization’s objectives and the reasoning behind them, but also an intense passion for performing well in your role.

As basketball coach Phil Jackson said, “Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing.”

Or, to quote Vince Lombardi again, “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”