Good Winner, Bad Winner

During a recent discussion with a friend a sudden tension arose when I mentioned the subject of ‘winning’. This was in the context of career aspirations but it became clear that the concept of ‘winning’ can easily step into controversial waters. Like most things, without context your thoughts are open to all kinds of interpretation and winning is one of the more contentious aspects that can lead to very undesired results. Certainly in modern society, winning is often deterred; especially in early school years (the non-competitive sports day for example) and it certainly can be an ugly thing to witness at times (‘Win at all costs’ quickly transforms into a brute force Lie, Cheat, Steal brigade). But without the right context this mentality could lead to the notion that winning does not matter, or more worryingly it is not for them.

That is when the concept of a bad winner entered my thoughts, history and the present is littered with them but should we want to win at all costs and if not, does this infer that we should not want to win? Do we dedicate time to consider what happens after hitting that goal or crossing the line? It appears to me that this is when the bad taste in the mouth, and more importantly the truth, starts to realise both for the winner and society around them.

This brought me back to my earlier times in Product Management and the “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager” essay by Ben Horowitz. This is an ideal way to articulate some key traits that I have experienced. The emphasise being that we really need to have identified the so-called ‘bad winners’ well before the race has begun, impact is seldom considered but is a cost that many will have to bear. What lies beyond the finish line?

1 — A good winner ensures they have a path to success even after crossing the finishing line. A bad winner does not care what happens after crossing the line. Ben Johnson is the most striking example (but far from alone in Athletics arena!) from my era, that explosion across the 100m track — ripped up the record book, but also the rulebook. Stark example of Life is a marathon, not a 100m sprint.
2 — A good winner is constantly relearning and evolving based on the data and information around them. A bad winner will find data and information around them that proves they were right.
3 — A good winner will hire those who are much ‘smarter’ than themselves, a bad winner wants to be the loudest voice in the team.
4 — A good winner will share their success with those around them that have made it possible (Jay Z), A bad winner will gladly share any failures, but success? That is all theirs!
5 — A good winner recognises the time to move to a new challenge, A bad winner will suppress such notion as a weakness.
6 — A good winner appreciates that future successors may require different skills than their own, a bad winner wants to mould future successors in the image of themselves.
7 — A good winner treats any competitor with the respect that they would expect themselves, A bad winner uses any means necessary in attempts to derail an opponent.

At this point it became clear that the biggest exponent of ‘Bad Winning’ is the current POTUS. Is this the winning legacy which will define this era and is it possible to be a ‘good winner’ in todays society?