Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Addicted to Winning?

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith reports that highly successful executives share one common problem: they are addicted to winning. Link here.

Surely, it is good to win. But people who are afflicted by an overwhelming desire to win, to win at everything, all the time, no matter the cost, are functioning like addicts. They are not looking for success; they are looking for a fix.

They remind me of the compulsive gamblers who want to bet on everything.

It is good that people compete. Without competition we would be far less effective on our jobs and would have no real incentive to improve ourselves. Without competition we would all become middling mediocrities.

Yet, cooperation is also a good thing. Your victory is not just yours and yours alone. Unless you are addicted to winning, of course.

Cooperation matters because all people belong to groups; we are hard-wired to get along with others. We need to know how to cooperate if we want to play on a team. And we all belong to teams. There is no such thing as a victory that is not going to be shared.

Goldsmith offers an excellent example. I daresay it is very common. Two people are arguing about where to have dinner. A wants to go to one restaurant; B wants to eat an another.

Finally, B prevails. A goes along.

Now, the food is bad; the service is bad; B's decision was not very good. What should A do?

Should he complain about the food, rub B's face in his bad decision, and exult at the presumed proof that he was right?

Or should he forget the argument, try to enjoy the meal, and make to best of the evening?

You have probably guessed that Goldsmith, and I, recommend the second option. A person with better character will say nothing, will go to great lengths to avoid afflicting further embarrassment on his friend, and will make the best of the evening.

Of course, you knew that. The strange part is that Goldsmith's clients did not. 75% of them chose the first option. These executives revel in being right and would not willingly forgo an opportunity to stake out a victory.

The moral of the story is simple: there is a time for competition, and there is a time for cooperation.

If you mix them up, say, by deciding that you are too good to cooperate, you will end up wasting energy competing over trifles. In the process you will end up losing friendships, to say nothing of teammates.

But if you decide that you are too good to compete, you will simply settle into the role of permanent loser... which is not the most attractive option either.

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