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Elements of Winning

In response to criticism about his famous saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” American football coach Vince Lombardi eventually offered a repudiation, implying that what he meant to say was, “Winning is not everything—but making the effort to win is.”

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 After reviewing more of Lombardi’s sayings, one recognizes that he believed that the commitment to winning was secondary only to God, family and community. Winning in business is the lifeblood of any society. But defining “winning” is much like defining “success.” The simplistic definitions quickly generate misunderstandings. Clearly, competitiveness doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” Companies such as Enron didn’t win—they simply demonstrated a lack of ethics. California plunged
into rolling brownouts during the height of a hot summer while Enron energy traders joked about some little old lady in California not being able to afford her power bills. Their supposed “winning streak” was quickly curtailed.  

Economic success need not be morally corrupt. There’s corruption in every field, from the priesthood to politics. But most people want to win the right way. They want to be part of a successful enterprise. They want meaningful work, with the freedom to achieve success, not just survive. They want a better life for their families, colleagues, communities and society.  

Experienced gurus recognize that excellence-indicators are not limited to just one element of any business; if one aspect of the business is clean, or corrupt, then it’s likely that other segments also have similar characteristics. Clearly, it starts with the leadership. In a good business, isolated problems and poor attitudes are quickly recognized and rooted out. If not, the “disease” spreads, irregularities become common and the organization collapses.

Achieving the financial objectives and having fun while doing that are important steps toward winning. But fun in business is more than just having flex hours or a party during lunch; it means enjoying time at work by being challenged to get involved. This includes allowing employees to share in the company’s values aswell as business success.  

Good businesses are distinguished by social and ethical balance, beyond just “winning” as isolated business entities. They take the long-term view—expecting all employees (executives, managers and workers alike) to give some of their time and talent to external good causes. They truly “win” when they have contributed not only to the owners or shareholders, but also to employees and their families, and to the community. In turn, this attracts good people with similar values and helps them to relate and contribute to the balanced objectives. That becomes the company culture, or “ethos.”  

Much more important than how you operate your business is why you operate the business. The business plan should include more than just achieving the financial performance. Included in the measurements must be identifiable contributions to employee development, to the community and to society at large.  

Passion for performance  

Whatever the concept of winning, it needs to serve the well being of the enterprise. It must include a process of continual self-improvement. It’s about pride in the work, with people knowing that they are pushing themselves to achieve the best that they can. There’s more to performance than just winning. Having genuine interest and excitement in doing what it takes to attain worthwhile goals is as important as actually achieving them.  

It’s important not only to have a clear understanding of the organization’s objectives, but also an intense passion for performance. Returning to the sports metaphor—basketball coach Phil Jackson
said, “Winning is important, but what brings real joy is being fully engaged.” Or, to quote Vince Lombardi again, “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you should be fired with enthusiasm.”  

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: Or review his prognostications and predictions on his
Web site:

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