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Marshall Goldsmith Headshot

Are You Addicted to Winning?

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I'm often asked what is the most common problem faced by the very successful executives I meet. This is an easy question to answer! The most common problem of these very successful people is wanting to win too much. And, this is not a problem limited to CEOs!

Winning is, of course, not bad thing -- quite the opposite. But the desire to win can become a problem, especially when the topic is meaningless or trivial.

To gauge my clients' "addiction to winning," I present them with the following case study. Try this yourself. You may find that you too have an addiction to winning.

Say that you want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your spouse, partner, or friend wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You end up at restaurant Y -- not your choice. The food tastes awful. The service is terrible.

  • Option A - Critique the experience. Point out that your partner was wrong. Explain that this terrible mistake could have been avoided if you had made the decision.
  • Option B - Shut-up. Eat the stupid food. Try to enjoy it. Have a nice evening.

What would you do?

Seventy-five percent of my clients "fail themselves" by saying that they would critique the food. What they should do is shut-up and enjoy the evening. There's nothing to be gained here by critiquing and complaining.

How to take a more thoughtful approach to such situations and keep your desire to win in check? Before speaking, take a deep breath and ask yourself these three questions:
  1. "Why am I trying so hard to win this point?" Our excessive need to win is often driven more by our personal need to prove how smart we are than by our altruistic desire to help others. In the long run, no one is ever impressed with our need to display our own brilliance.
  2. "Is this debate worth my time and energy?" You are probably already too busy. Is this argument the most efficient way to help you achieve your goals? If so, go for it! If not, drop it.
  3. "What is more important, the point that I am trying to win or my relationship with this human being?" In many cases it will become obvious to you that the benefit of winning small points is less important than the cost of damaging valued relationships.

Win the big ones. Let go of the rest.

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