In the wise words of Freddie Mercury, “We are the champions – my friends.  No time for losers.  ‘Cause we are the champions of the World.”

It is a common belief that business leaders are in business to win. However, not all leaders go about their days focused on winning. The leaders creating the most wins put effort into crafting exactly what it means to win. They are able to describe winning in terms of numbers and words for the team and for each individual member. They do this in such a way that their team talks about and takes action to win – even when the leader is not around.

A team that consistently wins is one that will not accept any other option. They are focused on the future and the rewards that come from success. It is in the way they think and behave day in and day out.

Winning teams are NOT the same as teams focused on not losing.  Teams driven by the not losing make very different decisions. Not losing teams focus on cost cutting or may spread efforts across too many priorities. Teams driven to win maniacally focus on the critical few priorities and are not distracted by noise created by doubters or shiny objects.

Consider an organization where leaders demonstrate their greatest drive for results when it is time to go through a cost out initiative. How is that organization different than one where the greatest drive for results happens after a new customer is acquired? These examples feel qualitatively different and the business results are also significantly and quantitatively different.

Teams driven to win are fueled by a sense of purpose and mastery. The leader has articulated the goal for the team and described what winning looks like to the point where team members can taste, smell and feel it. Each member has the necessary skills and is in their position ready to act when necessary.

Teams driven by not losing are fueled by fear. As a result, they may hire lower cost talent – which creates the results that a culture of enthusiastic amateurs can produce. They may also cut resources going to their most critical talent thus making it incredibly difficult for the best talent to produce results.  Doing so creates a cycle of more actions driven at not losing which distracts the team from actually winning.

Is your team focused on winning or not losing? If they are focused on winning, keep up the good work. Consider how you may be able to raise the bar and win bigger. If your team, like many others, is focused on not losing, your work is cut out for you but it is possible.

I recommend starting with the chapters on context and mission in The Rocket Model: Practical Advice for Building High Performance Teams (Curphy & Hogan).

What are some ways you’ve used or seen where leaders create or maintain an authentic drive to win? Please share them in the comments