Overcoming Your Will to Win

Last Updated Nov 24, 2009 7:19 AM EST

Yesterday, Jo Owen posted an excellent article on the benefits of creating values-based rather than rules-based organisations. Implementing and managing rules and regulations, Jo argues, costs money, leads to adversarial relationships and is often ineffective.

However, to change organisational paradigms from rules to values is a huge, huge step. At its heart is a requirement for business leaders to accept that defeats and failure happen.

I'm currently reading the John Updike novel, Rabbit, Run. In the story, Tothero, an old basketball coach, talks about how he built a "will to achieve" in his teams, and continues, "I've always liked that better than the will to win, for there can be achievement even in defeat."

If, as a manager, your focus is solely on winning, rather than achieving, failure becomes unacceptable. At that point, you must face into ongoing ethical dilemmas about the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, this is the world in which we live. Failure is simply unacceptable â€"- in business, in politics, in sport, in life â€"- and, in many people's eyes, is perpetrated by those sad people called 'losers'.

As a consequence, the desire to win can become all-consuming. Thierry Henry, Nick Leeson and Enron are all examples of where winning became more important than achieving.

Their desire to avoid failure at all costs led to actions that required some kind of punishment, some kind of regulation.

What's more, a key element of the banking crisis, and the subsequent recession, seems to have been a fixation by bankers on returns at the expense of effective risk management. The will to win strikes again.

If we want to create business organisations and communities built on values, not rules, we must first instil a will to achieve ahead of a will to win. And, going back to Jo's article, that cannot be done by regulation; it can only be achieved by individual and organisational commitment.

What do you think? Is it possible for business to establish the core values that make rules and regulations redundant? And if so, how do we best make that a reality?

(Pic: HikingArtist cc2.0)

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.