I used to make a point of asking employees this question…
“How do you win?”
The idea being that if I knew their desires then I, and the organization as a whole, could help them achieve them.
My “win” question tended to get response like these…
I want to close this huge new piece of business.
I want to be promoted to manager, director, VP.
I want to be the top salesperson in the company.
I want to be the youngest VP in the history of the company.
I want to make $100,000 dollars a year, or more, so I can afford the house, the car, the vacations, the kids colleges that we want.
Notice what all these answers have in common- they’re all about wanting our peers, managers, and others to see and reward our contributions. Getting psychological, they’re all about the common human desire to be differentiated, appreciated, externally validated.
Pretty typical stuff, but let’s dive a little deeper. Let's think for a minute about who hands out those rewards, those pay raises, promotions, bonuses, corner offices, attaboys, attagirls, and contracts. Whether it’s a committee or a single individual, the one thing we know for sure is that the “choosers” are imperfect human beings just like us. Their priorities aren't always clear. They have biases they aren't aware of. They make good and bad decisions every single day.
So if we’re attaching our emotional well-being to being chosen by imperfect people using imperfect information and imperfect processes, then we're setting ourselves up for eventual disappointment.
And imperfections aside, what if you’re running with the big dogs?
What if you work with amazing people where excellence is the norm - no promotions or awards coming your way - but you’re an important part of an accomplished, cohesive, motivated team? Isn’t that way better than slumming around the minor leagues - way better than being the top dog amongst a team of unmotivated, self-focused, status-quo knuckleheads?
I WAS ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION
Looking back it’s clear that my “how do you win” question was a trigger for the kind of answers I received. Answers that were all about being chosen and externally validated.
A much better question would have been “how do you want to grow - where and how do you want to increase your skills, insights, maturity?”
And I’m not being naive here, I get that it’s probably our nature to always have one eye on differentiating ourselves vis a vis our peers, the market, the world. But, if we’re really interested in tapping our potential, we better make damn sure our other eye is locked on our internal intrinsic growth needs.
This path - de-emphasizing winning and be chosen and instead locking in on intrinsic growth - is, ironically, the most direct path I know to winning and being chosen.