Leadership Skills: Winners vs. Losers

By Chris Elliot

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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As far as leadership skills go, how good are you at being a loser? How prepared are you to lose?

No one wants to be a loser, right? Everyone wants to win. Isn’t that what leadership is about, taking your team to the next level and winning the ultimate prize?

I heard the San Francisco Giants manager on the radio state how difficult it is to get to the World Series. “Thirty-two teams start out the season for one goal, but only one can win it.” That’s what all leaders are searching for; their version of the World Series, Stanley Cup, World Cup, or whatever the ultimate prize is in their area of expertise.

Leadership Skills and Losers

Are they failures who should just give up since they have never won? Or can they also be considered winners?

My conversation with a leader in the healthcare industry this week gave me a new view of who a loser really is and how they can be the eventual winner.

Growing up in a small Wisconsin town where his family raised and trained competition horses, Tom learned the value of hard work. His father taught it to him daily at home and during competitions on weekends. Hard work and perseverance through hard times were engrained in Tom.

From hard work at home, he went on to hard work in the Army, working in hospitals and health clinics in various states.

After leaving the Army, he continued working in health care for the next 30 years of his civilian life.

Seeing it All

Tom has seen it all, likely a lot more than he wanted to. As he noted to me, “All of society’s issues flow through these doors.” All the murders, theft, accidents caused by cell phone use while driving, and domestic abuse, to name a few, all come through the doors of a hospital, and Tom has seen them.

During a stint at a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, Tom noted that over 220 homicides were committed in one year compared with just 22 in all of Wisconsin that same year.

That single thought gave me a better perspective on the role our healthcare providers play in our culture and the leadership they must have.

During the rest of our conversation about leadership, Tom revealed a few other one-liners that hit directly on leadership. They were themes he used to lead a major part of the support staff within a hospital. A major component of his team’s responsibilities is repairing and maintaining the equipment within a patient’s room.

After each concept, Tom would follow with, “I’m sure there’s a better way to say it. I get to the point. I don’t know how else to say it.”

What can you learn from Tom’s no-nonsense approach?

Embrace Your ‘Loserness

With this comment, Tom explained that we all serve a purpose with the role we have. If we go into a situation (especially one where conflict exists) thinking we have to win, we have already lost. There are just too many people in this world looking to win every time.

The issue is not with winning; it’s with how we define winning. Winning can’t be about a single person. It’s not just about us.

Winning has to be about the ultimate objective. You might personally lose in any given situation, but more might win overall. I guess that goes along with losing the battle but winning the war.

Mitigate How Much You Lose

If you start by embracing your ‘loserness,’ it becomes easier to mitigate how much you lose. When we are called to a room, we have to know that we will never be responsible for that patient’s happiness. We can be the cause of their pain.

The patient will never say how much they loved that the TV worked or the bathroom equipment worked. But they sure will notice if either didn’t work, and they’ll notice how long it took to fix them.

When called, react quickly, listen to the problem, and fix it quickly. By getting the call, we lost. How much we lose is up to us.

Fix the Real Problem First

For Tom, the real problem is always about the person, not the equipment. If we maintain the equipment properly, we reduce breakdowns, but we can’t eliminate them.

We can’t eliminate people’s breakdowns, either. When entering a room to repair equipment, be prepared to be yelled at. You might get the wrath of the person whose life has just been turned upside-down.

Apologize first, let that person know you are there for them, and then fix the equipment. The equipment is why you were called to the room, but people are always the real issue.

We’re Not All Equal

Saying we’re all equal is a great sentiment, and it’s mostly true as human beings. As part of the hospital staff, however, we are not all equal. I can fix equipment, but I can’t fix a person’s body.

For every person walking through the doors, the provider (doctor) is the most important person. We all deserve respect, but we are all here to serve the provider so they can serve the patient.

In Servant Leadership, we flip the organizational chart upside-down. The CEO, who normally sits on top, is on the bottom serving up to those closest to the customer and, ultimately, the customer.

Too often, we think of this chart from a perspective of salary versus responsibility. The CEOs make the most money, so they’re at the bottom. Well, providers make the most money, and they’re on top.

Is that Servant Leadership? Absolutely! The provider is the closest to providing the best service to the patient, with nurses a close second.

It Ain’t About You

Well, it ain’t all about you. It’s about all of us. If you don’t get that we’re all not equal in the roles we provide, you’re probably still thinking it’s all about you.

Tom summed up his philosophy by comparing his team to the left tackle on a football team. Think about a great touchdown pass where the quarterback scrambles to his right a bit, sets up, and then heaves a pass down the field. The receiver makes a one-handed catch, spins out of a tackle, and heads toward the end zone.

With one tackler left, another wide receiver comes into view and puts a block on that last tackler. It’s a touchdown.

Replay after replay, conversation after conversation, will be about those three players and the incredible efforts they gave. No one will show the left tackle making a routine block to ensure that every other player has enough time to make that play happen.

If the left tackle misses that routine block and the quarterback is creamed in the backfield, everyone talks about the job he didn’t do. If the left tackle goes into his career thinking he’s going to be the star, he lost.

Thank God for all the left tackles and ‘losers’ in this world.

Would You Be Prepared as a Loser?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Chris Elliot
Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.
  • I have been dealing with some difficulties, but you have shown me a reasonable point of view. Thank you!

  • matt keup says:

    I do like the article, but I think there are some wrong stats in it. The city of Milwaukee alone in Wisconsin has never had fewer than 22 homicides. Typically, it’s around 100-150 per year in Milwaukee alone.


  • David McCuistion says:

    Our country in general, the media in particular, spends to much time on winners and not enough time estoling the accomplishment non-winners achieve getting to the big game.

    No one can logically and in reality call the Detroit Tigers losers because they came in 2nd Place in the World Series. They accomplished better than all the remaining major league ball teams this past year.

    I coached a group of young high school Navy Junior ROTC (NJROTC)Cadets to a great accomplishment after only three years in existence. They finish in 6th place overall out of 17 other NJROTC Units from around the Nation in the NJROTC National Competition. They were winners in my book. They were winners in their own minds also.

    Winners and others is a much better title for those in 2nd place and otherwise.

  • Chris Elliott says:

    Thanks for the comment David! I hope my article portrays those exact sentiments.

  • Keith Johnston says:

    Great article. As a former left guard I can relate to the left tackle analogy. The key is that everyone needs to be prepared to lose in order to ultimately win. Nobody ever got to the Super Bowl without the benefit of losing to give them the lessons they needed to be victorious.

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