It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.
I remember that adage meaning two things from my childhood days playing sports. First, it’s better to lose fairly than win unfairly. And second, if one gives one’s best effort, the outcome doesn’t matter.
I think it’s a good adage, if it means what I remember.
But what about in leadership, and servant-leadership in particular? Does the adage apply?
I don’t think so.
Instead, I believe that when it comes to servant leadership, it matters how you play the game AND whether you win or lose.
Indeed, I believe the best servant-leaders play to win.
Jim Collins, the author of several best-selling business books, uses the term “Level 5 leadership” to describe servant leadership in the business context.* According to Collins, “Level 5 leaders blend a paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.”
“It is very important to grasp that Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty. It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make [her or his] company great.
Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven [Collins concludes], infected by an incurable need to produce results.”
Collins rightly recognizes that servant-leaders are driven to succeed.
Sure, they may not define success or winning in traditional ways (achieving personal power, wealth and fame, for example). And they may seek win-win outcomes whenever possible. But all the same, servant-leaders play to win.
Susan B. Anthony played to win against those who denied women the right to vote; Mohandas Gandhi played to win against colonial British rule; Martin Luther King played to win against Jim Crow; and Nelson Mandela played to win against apartheid.
And they played intensely.
Which is a reason so many people followed those servant-leaders.
In my experience, leaders who don’t care about winning won’t have followers for long. And those who play to win, intensely, will have the most intensely-devoted followers.
I might even go a step further and say that a person who cares little about winning is not likely to be a servant-leader.
In any case, I come back to a saying attributed to Vince Lombardi, the great American professional football coach, who himself had many devoted followers: “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
What do you think? Do servant-leaders play to win? What am I missing here?
As always, we appreciate your views.
* For more about this point, you might like this post: “‘Servant Leadership’ and ‘Level 5 Leadership'”