What Executive Coaches Never Talk About Winning

Donald Trump, in his interview with Megyn Kelly last night, opened a window to a critical leadership trait. This trait is so central to any leader’s success that if you don’t have it, you will never make it in the business world. It is a trait Mark Zuckerberg and Indra Nooyi have. It is a trait Jack Welch wrote a whole book on. It is key to what enabled Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to succeed. And even unfortunately Mao, Hitler, and Stalin had it. Yet interestingly this trait is rarely, dare I say never, a topic of conversation in executive coaching.

Trump has been talking about winning for a long time in this presidential race: winning with China, winning with Mexico, etc. However last night he made a bold statement about winning. A statement that every executive coach and want-to-be successful leader should listen to very carefully.

When asked if he thought that his run for office, even if he loses, will have an impact on the world, Trump laid this trait bare for the world to hear. He said, “If I don’t win, I will consider the last year a total waste of time, energy, and money.”

Really? So the many issues he thinks are important that he brought to the public to discuss – trade, illegal immigration, and maybe most importantly the message that people are tired of politicians being politically correct, and on the other side all the discussion about how bad it is to insult people, and the harm it does to society – were a waste of time exploring and discussing?

Yes. In Trump’s mind. And this would be the same answer of any successful leader about their efforts.

This intense need to win, and to do whatever can be done to win, is a trait of successful leaders. They are not interested in losing. They don’t see others learning from their experiences as the end game. Winning is the end game. Succeeding in their efforts is the end game. They need to win.

A short video about a leader I worked with who gets it:

Without this trait, this fierce desire to win, leaders can’t succeed. They would give up when faced with the obstacles of change. They would give in when faced with a strong opponent of their ideas. They could be emotionally intelligent, great people, likeable, smart, technically competent, even charismatic. However if they don’t have this desire to win, they would fail.

Strangely, I’ve see more leadership articles in recent years written about failure than winning. I see many coaches and consultants heralding the power of failure and learning as the path to success. While that is not untrue, that the road to success is built on failure, I don’t see articles on winning. I don’t see people like myself writing about cultivating the winning spirit, cultivating the focus on winning in their team. I don’t hear speeches on how to create a team that has the fight in them to overcome every obstacle they face in order to win/achieve their goal. Yet this fighting spirit is what separates winning teams from others. Teams like Zuckerberg’s that bring innovations in infrastructure and user interface to the market first. Teams like Musk’s that bring his luxury electric cars to the masses.

People like to talk about how Donald Trump is insensitive, offensive, and not presidential.  Yet there is a more important narrative that gets swept under the rug – the fearless desire to do what it takes to win. That is what has driven every successful leader in the business and social spheres. And it will going forward for all time. If executive coaches, human resource leaders, and management consultants want to win in their work, and be effective in helping leaders succeed, they need to bring the winning spirit into focus with leaders.

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