CULTURE OF WINNING: A leadership preference

Are we born to win or is winning a meaning construct. We know about animal species and how combative they are in terms of retention of their territory, food and mating behaviour. Animals jostle for these and grid lock themselves into a fight and just prior to defeat the losing animal displays submissive behaviour and exposes its belly or throat declaring to the aggressor that it has lost the battle. The victorious aggressor lets out a war cry and takes charge. Aggression manifested by animals to get to their food/territory is inevitable for them. In a food scanty place, carnivorous animals have to kill to stay alive and this is survival aggression. Neanderthals had to be aggressive to get to their food but the scenario is different today.

Basic survival doesn’t need inordinate aggression, yes it is not easy and certain level of tenacity is needed to survive today yet when it comes to winning sales deals, acquisitions or business arena experiences, we see immoderate aggression. Human beings are not aggressive at birth, there may be traces of genetic disposition but aggression is learnt in the world due to formative conditioning and so is the culture of winning. In the book Inner game of tennis, Tim Gallwey lucidly explains the philosophy behind why people have this need to win. He states  that competition for many is merely an arena for venting aggression; it is taken as a proving ground for establishing who is stronger, tougher, and smarter. Each imagines that by beating the other he has in someway established his superiority over him, not just in a game, but as a man. Tim further states that “It is when competition is used as a means of creating a self-image relative to others that the worst in a person comes out; then the ordinary fears and frustrations become greatly exaggerated.”



It is intriguing how the loser is made to look small and diminutive in most sporting fields. Take the recent 2014 June French Open finals and look at the sheer intensity in Nadal’s game. He is one set down but raises his tennis beyond belief and goes on to win the next 3 sets with some blazing shots tennis has ever seen. Djokovic is indeed emotional at the outcome and dejected but he shouldn’t be as he gave his best as a remarkable competitor but it just happens that he got outclassed. Whatever classy shots Djokovic executed, Nadal just kept returning back with inconceivable finesse, ferocity and played a much superior game of tennis. If tennis is viewed or sport is viewed from this altruistic standpoint and the loser of the finals is also acknowledged (and indeed Roland Garros gave Djokovic a terrific ovation and acknowledgement to the sportsman that he is) and if the loser is not made to look bad then there is no stigma attached to losing after giving your best. Djokovic didn’t lose because he had something more in him and that he failed to summon this brilliance on this day, the matter of fact is that on red clay court Nadal in his present form was too good and far superior hence it must quickly assuage Djokovic’s melancholy after losing but it doesn’t.Djokovic was almost in tears because he has won all the other grand slams barring French Open. The pressure of records. Throughout French Open 2014 the commentators mentioned about breaking and sustaining records, equating Nadal’s feat of winning 9 French open crown and more importantly Nadal equaling Pete Sampras on 14 grand slams and on his way to beating Federer’s 17 grand slam record. These records aided by media indoctrination has now become the new obstacles or a goal for a player to aspire for in terms of conquering it as against the pleasure of raising one’s quality of tennis.


The society has unconsciously imposed this stipulation on the winner. Apple would like to retain its market share percentage and top innovator status, P&G would like to remain on top with the introduction of products, brands and pacesetters, NIKE would love to get the latest and most successful sports celebrities   to endorse their products and so forth. Everyone wants to appear on Google front page, everyone wants their children to go to the best school/college in the area and everyone wants to acquire aspirational products and that resplendent mansion by the seaside.

The advocacy here is not to stop from winning, after all when Nadal goes for victory, he does unleash some unbelievable potential from within but the message is ‘do not abandon the loser’ and get dazed by the winner. This aspect is difficult to put into practice as it involves a societal attitudinal shift towards winning or losing. Look at the statements from key people in the arena

  • I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.- Colin Powell
  • Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing – Vincent Lombardi
  • I think right now it is a battle for the mindshare of developers and for the mindshare of customers and right now iPhone and Android are winning that battle. – Steve Jobs

These statements by themselves aren’t wrong or bad; if one is accosting challenges in a war scenario, it is important to create a screen of confidence behind which the team can regroup hence presenting a winning attitude at all times in most fields to preserve state could be effective but not to the extent of false projections that Enron had to indulge in when they were going down or take the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and the huge charade in which it was enveloped in. When winning becomes the only thing people go to any extent to attain it and fail to present the right facts to analysts and shareholders. They remain riddled with guilt but continue to desperately project placidity and signs of well-being. All around us, the emphasis on winning is so emotionally rooted and the culture of winning so assiduously reinforced that people seek inoculation to combat the losing bug. Organizations recruit aggressive managers and supervisors to contain this and firms label this inoculation as ‘pressure’. How much anxiety this induces in the pressure creator as well its recipient and what constitute healthy living depends upon the kind of winning culture and ambition a firm fosters.

Capitalist societies belligerently emphasize winning culture. Why organisations like to win because there is severe competition and they would like to retain their market leader position and maximize profitability with respect to product/service positioning. Nothing sinister here after all without a nation prospering and making monetary progress, interesting projects cannot be funded and lifestyle cannot be embellished. We all know how businesses in the 50’s and 60’s created a virtual monopoly in many sectors but the terrain has changed. Competition is pervasive.


  • It spurs innovation
  • Raises industry standards and consumer expectation
  • It keeps the team active, eliminates complacency, quickens pace
  • Retains customers as they reward with loyalty for the next innovative product/service
  • Keeps mind challenged, fosters creativity, unleashes absolute potential
  • Decimates monopoly thereby keeping prices down
  • Nation’s competing for exports is a healthy sign to increase wealth and reduce poverty
  • It is the driving force behind present market dynamics
  • Competition fuels growth
  • Lack of competition stifles technological leaps due to complaisance


To combat competition, firms indulge in the winning culture but is it the final victory that gives people the thrill or is it in the conquering of milestones and challenges that provides them the satisfaction? As Tim Gallwey puts it “Winning is about making the obstacles tougher and getting a feeling of conquering.” If obstacles and reward isn’t challenging even dolphins are bored to perform the same feat. Tim states that “Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal ,but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.”   This can be seen in sales scenario where the predominant satisfaction in the deal for the salesman lies in his/her thrill of overcoming sales objections raised by the customer and winning the RFP. No body joins sales to do the mundane administration tasks. The thrill of the kill is in the networking, prospecting, pitching, consultative relationship building with the client, structuring the deal etc. Even in tennis the victory is less savory if one of the key players is injured and had to abandon a match. Challenging obstacles are needed for intellectual stimulation and to make it fun.



Because of the accolades and attention weaved around winning, it triggers a feeling of worth in the winner and invokes an overbalancing thrust towards recurrent wins. Children who secure an A+ can feel the intensified love, affection and recognition from parents and society. A quick glance around and it can be easily perceived that there is only place for winners in our society. It is an ‘all or nothing’ culture and this is precisely what must be avoided. Whilst begetting a winning culture may be important, the impact it has on the loser, who lost by a few milliseconds is inexplicable. He too is one amongst us and his integration back into the ecosystem needs consideration. An organization that learns to balance this yearning to win at any cost versus providing a nurturing environment for the one’s who didn’t quite make it on specific occasions is an organization that has social significance and maturity. Remaining impervious to persistent losing is not what is being sanctioned here, it merely endangers survival but the right balance is within the remit of the leadership team and must be exercised.

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