Losing for the win

At the dojo

Last night at the Boston Martial Arts Center I had an interesting experience while coaching one of the green belt students on some avoidance techniques. The drill was simple: I swung at the student with a foam-padded bopper and after avoiding a relatively slow swing, they had to hit a padded target. It’s a drill of avoidance and footwork on one hand, and accuracy on the other. The drill encourages not only good technique, but presence of mind – you can’t just wildly avoid or you’ll be out of position for the target hitting.

What was interesting to me wasn’t the drill itself but two insights I had. The first insight was that I had to strongly resist my own urge to “win”, to hit the student with the foam stick. That wasn’t the point of the drill, and initially, my own ego and desire to “win” by the conventional definition (hit them with the bopper) was quite strong. It took me a good minute or two before we started to put myself in the right frame of mind, that I was there to help the student first and foremost, and to appropriately move at a speed that insured more success than failure, while not eliminating the chance for failure.

The second insight, which was part of that reframing, was that “winning” in this case wasn’t hitting the student with the bopper. Winning was actually “losing” the majority of the time for my role as the attacker. If I was not able to hit them the majority of the time, if I was able to have them succeed first and foremost, that was the true win, the win in the bigger picture. They’d walk away with more skill, more insight of their own, and more happiness rather than walk away demoralized or ashamed of their performance. In this case a narrow-minded personal “win” would have been a failure on my part as a coach and a failure on the part of the student.

When I look over my career, this is a pattern writ large. Those times that have been the most fruitful and the most successful were when I put a bigger picture win ahead of a narrow-minded personal win. When you help create success in others, they root for your success and actively look for ways to help you achieve it. Those times that have been the most stressful and unpleasant were because I created selfish success at the expense of others. In a world where you are the platform, creating situations where people don’t want to see you succeed is tantamount to career suicide, while creating situations where people are actively and eagerly supporting you is a rocketship to the top.

The challenge I continue to face is whether my ego is willing to lose small for the big win.


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  • http://www.gradontripp.com gradontripp

    So true. Several years ago, I had a manager who was quiet, patient, and more a teacher than a boss. Interestingly, he stressed he was actually the greediest manager in the company, greedier than the win-at-all-costs, screaming heads that ran other teams. His belief was that a truly greedy manager would actually be the one that focuses on building a successful team, deferring his success and focusing on their needs. Their wins will multiply and bubble up to him, resulting in greater achievements than the other, louder managers.

  • http://www.dayngrzone.com/ Dayngr

    Boy oh boy! I needed to read this one today.

  • http://www.kennethlim.net Kenneth Lim

    Like two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin once said: “A player who makes the team great is better than a great player”.