Why Great Leaders Believe In Sportsmanship

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By Jas Singh

We all like to win. Or at least get what we want. But with the increased impact of technology and globalization, competition has never been greater.

Which often leads to disappointment.

Which usually makes us bitter.

Off course they cheated.

We lost the promotion because the other guy sweet-talked the management. We resent the competition for stealing our clients. We even feel bitter towards people we haven’t even seen – the manager who didn’t like our resume, or the other couple who bought the house we liked.

Yet top performers not only accept the competition, they respect it. Even embrace it. Some even live for it. They realize that as leaders, they are usually judged more not by how the react when things are going well, but when things are going badly.

In my experience, good leaders although fiercely competitive, are usually good sportsmen and sportswomen. They understand that losing is also a part of life.

Here are a few reasons why being a good sport is an essential part of leadership in any calling.

1) It creates a great culture

Sore losers are seldom fun to be around, let alone work with. A negative personality repels others, creates resentment and creates a “win-at-all-cost” mentality – ethically or not.

We’ve all worked in companies who will take any opportunity to trash talk the competition. Such organisations usually also take the opportunity to brain wash employees that the “others” are to be avoided at all cost. The dark side.

Yet embracing and respecting the competition improves culture. Firstly, it allows you to improve – by learning the best bits from others. Just like exceptionally performing athletes “pull” the rest of the competition up, the same is true of business. Secondly, being a good sport shows more belief in you own companies capabilities – that you are confident you can improve to win next time – rather than being a sore loser and make excuses. And thirdly, creating a good sportsmanship culture encourages workers to be fair and ethical at all times – to win in the right way.

2) It brings perspective

Accepting defeat honestly, brings humility, another essential skill in leadership. In the high stakes and high pressure world of business, those who become stressed over every mistake and defeat will not last long.

Work pressures are already causing record levels of physical and mental disease. Being a good sport and looking at defeat with a lighter frame of mind brings balance and perspective. Running a $50 million revenue stream although important, is not a matter of life and death. Off course there is competition. You will lose to others. Take it on the chin, learn, and move on.

Rather than permanently being defensive and stressed, good sports usually have more perspective to the real situation.

3) It enhances reputation

I had client once who used to run a sales team selling high performance software to hedge funds. Great guy – great mentor, super motivated, really got involved with the sales process from bottom to top.

Only issue was he hated losing. Despised it. And made his feelings clearly known.

His sales team often commented about how they hated going to visit him if they knew they were going to lose a deal. He would flip. Sparks would fly. Refusing to accept defeat sometimes he’d even insist his team try to go back and change the clients mind. (If you’ve ever worked with hedge funds you’ll understand how laughable that concept is).

Everyone likes to work for a winner, but no-one likes a sore loser. It shows weakness. It’s unrealistic. And most importantly of all, it creates isolation.

Modern day greats such as Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates are outstanding examples of leaders who know how to lose with grace. Despite increasing levels of competition and even targeted campaigning (e.g Apple vs Microsoft), you’ll rarely find them trash talking the competition.

Being a good sports shows integrity and respect. It enhances your reputation.

4) It fosters collaboration

We’ve often heard how today’s competition is tomorrow’s partner.

With the fast changing business landscape, never has this been truer. Never have their been more partnership opportunities. More and more strategic collaborations. Increasing levels of mergers and acquisitions. More need to attract people from the competition to meet growing hiring requirements.

Those who are sore losers alienate the competition. Which means alienating tomorrow’s potential partner. Great leaders understand that respecting all others is an essential ingredient in long term success.

As any MBA student will tell you, in virtually any market, once the growth starts to slow there will always be consolidation. Just one look at Wall Street will tell you that – in 10 years the number of tier one investment banks has literally halved. From personal experience, I can tell you that many who had little respect for the competition have been unable to find another job.

Sportsmanship fosters collaboration further down the line.

Conclusion

How you win is how you are celebrated. But how you lose is how you are judged.

Hiring managers need to ensure they hire those who are ambitious but with a good attitude of sportsmanship – towards competitors, colleagues and even themselves.

Are you a good sport?

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