Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Win or Lose, You Can Still Succeed

winning“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

I recently had the opportunity to talk to the parent of a collegiate athlete currently on scholarship. She described her athlete’s transition from high school to college, the change in coaching and expectations as well as the myriad challenges of becoming an effective collegiate athlete. At one point, she rationalized some of the personal challenges of her athlete by saying: “You can’t blame the coaches, after all, their job is to win.” As I considered this statement, I found myself conflicted. Yes, of course their job is to win…isn’t it?

Rewind a few weeks, I happened to notice a LinkedIn Share that featured a John Wooden appearance at a TED talk. Here is the link: John Wooden, The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding. It is powerful. Coach Wooden seems to have a different perspective. In this talk, Coach Wooden shares some wisdom from his father as well as his definition of success:

  • Never try to be better than someone else.
  • Always learn from others.
  • Never cease trying to be your best.

His definition of success? “Peace of mind attained only through the self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” The link between his father’s wisdom and his definition of success? Focusing on what you can control: your attitude, your effort, your behavior. Coach Wooden goes on to say that he found that helping his players focus on doing their best to become their best seemed to foster pretty good results (from a coaching perspective: 10 NCAA championships and 664 wins compared to 162 losses during his career).

Is this really so revolutionary? Isn’t it common sense that helping your team be their best will get great results? Perhaps. The reality is that executing on it can be quite uncommon. We want to win. We want results. We want _________. It is still so easy to get caught up in the objective and lose sight of the journey. People become pieces on a board to be moved into places deemed necessary to create a win. If they don’t perform, we find someone who can. So often, we’re not focusing on helping them be the best they can be, we’re focusing on what we want and whether or not they’re producing it – never remembering to ask ourselves what we did to help them succeed.

Coach John Wooden was a teacher first and a coach second. He set out to help his players be their best (on and off the court) and he got results. What are you doing to help the people on your team be their best? In business, winning is a bit different. We measure it in revenue, costs, projects completed etc. Like an athletic competition, we want a certain result. Our results-orientation can make it easy to forget the personal development that has to occur on a daily basis to achieve our objectives. It can be easy to forget the fundamentals that are necessary to help our players be their best.

Back to my conversation with the parent of the collegiate athlete. Her point was that the coaches weren’t there to coddle these kids. Their job is to win and put players in place that enable them to win. I wonder what would happen if we applied Coach Wooden’s logic to this perspective? He might suggest that the coach’s job was to assemble the best collection of raw talent possible and then to help each one of them be the best that he or she can be. For Coach John Wooden, success for him was helping his players develop into the best men they could possibly be – in basketball and in life. What would happen if every coach took this player-first approach? Imagine the difference for that coach, that player and that team!

How does this apply to you? It starts with recognizing the difference between winning and being successful. Wooden suggests that it is possible to win even if your team has fewer points on the scoreboard and it is possible to lose even when you’ve got more points on the scoreboard. How? Because of his definition of success. Wooden didn’t feel that a “Win” in a situation where he and his team did not do their best was really success.

Consider these thoughts on success and winning:

  • “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.” John Wooden
  • “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.” John Maxwell
  • “Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.”
    Zig Ziglar

  • “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln

So this is your challenge: consider what winning means to you and then define your notion of success. If you think as Coach Wooden does, that success is peace of mind attained through knowing that you did your best; then winning, and losing, becomes something very different. Now consider your objectives with this model of success as the frame. Look at yourself and your team. What are you doing every single day to be your best and to help them be their best? If you can find a way to focus on your best and your team’s best every day, then you will find success – whether you “win” or “lose”.

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