When to Win

The most common behavior problem I have found in the executives I have worked with is an obsession with winning - and this isn’t just CEO’s.

It’s common in most highly successful people, including me. When the issue is important, naturally we all want to win. But if it’s trivial, we still want to win. Even if it’s not worth our time, or it’s to our disadvantage, we often try to win anyway.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about.  You want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your spouse wants to go to dinner to restaurant Y. You have a heated debate. You go to restaurant Y. The food’s bad, the service is awful. Now you’ve got two options.

Option A - critique the food, point out to your spouse how wrong he or she was and how this debacle could have been avoided if he or she had listened to you. Option B - be quiet, eat the food, and try to have a nice evening.

What do 75% of my executive clients say they would do in this situation? Critique the food. What do they agree they should do? Shut up. If they do a cost-benefit analysis, they realize that their marriage is more important than winning the argument.

So I tell my clients, “Before you get into any conflict, take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it? What do I have to gain by winning? What do I have to lose?’ “

A related problem is what I call adding too much value. Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good, but rather than just say, “Great idea!”, your tendency - because you have to win - is to say, “Good idea, but do it this way.”

Well, you may have improved the quality of my idea by 5%, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 30% because you took away my ownership.

The higher up you get on the corporate ladder, the more you need to make other people winners, and not make it about winning yourself.

One of my clients said once he got into the habit of taking a breath before he talked, he realized about half of what he was going to say wasn’t worth saying. Even though he thought he was right, he realized he had more to gain by not winning.My parting advice:  Don’t always insist on winning.

Sometimes you have more to gain by not winning.

Before you get into any conflict, ask yourself what you have to gain by winning, or what you stand to lose.

Life is good.



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One Response to “When to Win”

  1. David Whitehead Says:

    I agree. Having coached and guided many senior execs I find also this is one of the most common traits. I would not say it always generates problems but often I have seen it damage the team development.

    One further comment is that winning is not always about a conflict or decision situation. I have seen one extreme case - this person always had to add his comment to any decision, presentation, discussion. He very often had a valid point. However, these additional inputs and criticisms did not help the team spirit as the members “knew” there would be some extra comment even when they did a great job.

    So, sometimes it pays to shut-up even if the point you are about to make is valid.

    Another extreme example I saw was a top manager who got a team event organized with racing cars but went to the track the weekend before to practice so he could win the team event. He already worked long hours and saw little of his family but spent a whole weekend away just so he could beat his team members.

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