Do you think that winning and succeeding are the same thing?
It may look subtle but I believe that there is a substantial difference between the two and more importantly I believe there is a fundamental difference between the kind of leaders who direct their energies towards winning and those who direct them towards succeeding - and the levels of satisfaction in life that derives from these different approaches. Why?
What I observe is that leaders whose efforts are directed at winning tend to see achievements in black and white (you get it or you don't), once they achieve a target they expect recognition and admiration, they go relentlessly about realizing their goals losing sight of whether they still matter, they tend to have one single criteria for judging their accomplishments, and the goals tend to be formulated in terms of "I/me/my".
Winning stems from an ego-centric awareness, a world of scarcity where there is one winner and the others are losers. These leaders derive their sense of self from their achievements - dangerous and fragile if there's only one winner, isn't it?
Leaders who focus on winning tend to feel isolated and lonely, they think they have control over everything, they see others as competitors and opponents. When they don't get what they want they tend to feel treated unfairly. When others are successful they tend to be bitter, and this reinforces their view of the world as unjust and of themselves as not worthy. Something that of course they try to hide, even to themselves, by setting even more ambitious goals in a never ending merry-go-round.
Another important consequence of a "win-lose" framework is that it creates a level of rigidity and reduces our capacity to adapt our behavior to maximize outcomes. Imagine getting into a conflict or a conversation wanting to win, what happens? What do you observe about yourself?
The level of satisfaction of these winning-oriented leaders in life is lower. No matter what they achieve in other domains or what progresses they make towards their goals, it's never enough. They have their eyes only on one thing, that one goal that will magically turn their life around and they will finally be happy.
And that goal, no wonder, always eludes them. Because nothing can satiate that hunger for recognition. After all there's always someone who has a bit more, who did a bit better.
Leaders who pursue success have more complex definitions for it than their own gain. Most likely that success is defined in terms of what they want to create (rather than on what they want to obtain for themselves). These leaders tend to have definitions of success that take into account multiple dimensions and range across life domains, they tend to allow a degree of flexibility in the way that success will be practically realized. These leaders give themselves options. They stay present. When conditions change or they change, their definition of success also changes. They adapt. They stay relevant and coherent.
These leaders tend to choose behaviors that maximize the total outcome and satisfaction of all parties involved - seeing them as stakeholders and allies, rather than getting stuck on unproductive behaviors and framing others as opponents. Again, imagine getting into a conflict or conversation aiming for success, what do you do differently?
You see, our energies, thoughts, emotions, actions align along our intentions ...
Thinking in terms of success derives for a different kind of consciousness, one that accounts for complexity, for others, for something bigger than ourselves, for the unpredictability of life. It is the consciousness of those who want to leave legacies, instead of getting medals. Success is abundant, it is not exclusive, it allows for other people to succeed too. And if they do, these leaders don't feel deprived, they don't feel something has been taken away from them. If anything, other people's success gives them the motivation to do even more, even better. These are the leaders who stand behind their teams, who recognize other people's contributions, who serve the good of the system.
It doesn't mean that these leaders necessarily pursue higher goals. Simply, the leaders who are moved by success tend to be in greater alignment. Their criteria for success reflect who they are as a person, what matters the most to them, the difference they want to make in their world, what they want to be remembered for. These leaders don't get burned out if at first they don't get what they want. They find other ways. They take ownership, they make choices. Their progresses towards their goals reinforces their sense of competency and belonging.
So, let me invite you to take a moment to reflect: what kind of leader are you? Between these two kinds of leaders, who would you choose to lead a team or to work for?
I believe there is no right or wrong. But if I have to pick whom to coach, well I choose those leaders who want to leave legacies!
PRACTICE: When you enter a conversation today, pause and ask yourself: "what would be success in this exchange?". Will you let me know how it goes?