Leadership and What it Means to Win

leadership and what it means to win

What does it mean to win? As a Leadership Keynote Speaker and a former NFL quarterback, I can tell you first hand, in business and athletics, that winning, real winning, isn’t just about the end score. Certainly, the score is important, but what winning really comes down to is learning how to win consistently and growth.

What did you learn? What will you take with you? How will you be better prepared for the next round?

True Winners will have answers to these questions, regardless of whether they are currently celebrating a victory, or suffering a defeat. Those without the ‘winning’ mindset will tend to dismiss these questions as irrelevant; in victory, they’ll say they have nothing left to learn, in defeat, they’ll blame the bounce of a ball, a bad call, or some other group or individual, everyone but themselves. These are not the actions of a consistent winner, and they certainly aren’t the actions of a winning leader.

So, if winning is about consistency, personal growth, and self-betterment, how does one exercise effective leadership in order to help their team win?

Tom Flick speaking about effective leadership habits

Coach Pete Carroll, of Seahawks and USC fame, addresses this question in his book Win Forever in a way that I find very compelling and quite useful. Carroll cites Abraham Maslow as the key inspiration for his success as a leader and a coach. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who famously established Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. At the base of his hierarchy are basic human needs like food and shelter, and at the top is the ultimate need that we as humans all share: the need for self-actualization.


Self-actualization is another term for reaching one’s full potential. In his book, Coach Carroll describes his coaching style as one of a facilitator – his job as a coach is to create an environment in which his players can self-actualize or reach their potential. I can’t help but agree with Pete – that’s how you exercise effective leadership in order to help your team win; you create an environment in which members of your team are able to constantly grow and better themselves toward self-actualization. Importantly, however, helping your team win is not the same as making it easy on them or sugarcoating hard truths. In fact, the opposite is true.

Failure is Necessary for Success

In order to reach your potential and realize success, it’s inevitable you’re to fail along the way. To make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs – or in Pete Carroll’s case – you’ve got to get fired five times before you realize what you need to do to be better. Remember, winning consistently is about self-actualization and growth, and you can’t grow without failure. Failure is how we learn from our mistakes and gain new insights as to what works and what doesn’t. Failure can motivate and inspire us to improve. So, as an effective leader, it’s important that you properly contextualize victories and defeats for your team. Remind members of your team not to get too down on their losses – losses or setbacks are the necessary stepping-stones on the path to success. Likewise, don’t let your team revel in their victories for too long. A victory or a win for your team is important and certainly needs to be honored for the effort necessary to achieve it. But a consistently winning team or organization should also view it as business as usual, not an extraordinary event. Remember, you need to keep winning in order to maintain success.

Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins

Former NFL Washington Redskins and Hall of Fame Coach, Joe Gibbs, understood this concept perfectly. People forget that Gibbs started his head-coaching career 0-9 (4 pre-season and 5 regular season losses). After our sixth loss, and with the pressure of the Washington DC media breathing down his neck, I remember a Monday morning team meeting where everybody was on pins and needles waiting for Gibbs to enter the room and explode in anger over our recent loss. He never did. After each setback, he and his coaching staff maintained their clear and strategic path towards success. Communication was clear and actionable. Accountability was consistent and metered out appropriately. Belief in the “system” was his goal. His “system” was creating the environment where we would all have the best opportunity to reach our full potential and succeed as a team. His patience was rewarded with three Super Bowl victories.

Winning isn’t just about the score and it’s not about deadlines. You don’t win once and suddenly you’re successful because real winning isn’t tied a specific event. Winning happens each and every day through the constant struggle to learn and to be better – to self-actualize – and you can’t get better without going through failure.

As a leadership keynote speaker, I help teams and organizations of all shapes and sizes revamp their leadership so that they can grow, become better, and win. If you’re interested in any of the ways in which I can help your team realize their full potential, please get in touch today.