The Importance of Winning Attitude in Business -A Leadership Tip

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Sun Tzu in his book ‘The Art of War’ writes, “Do not enter battles to participate. Fight battles to win.”

He adds, “Prolonged warfare provides no benefits -Weapons grow duller, too much money will be spent, prices increase, soldiers lose strength over some time and the economy weakens. If you Fight the battle to participate — you would be defensive, react to situations than being proactive. If you fight the battle to win, you won’t hesitate to make decisions and hard choices”.

In Cricket, particularly in test matches, the general advice is ‘Don’t play for a draw. Play to win.” When you play to win, you focus on things that will bring you victory. When you play not to lose, you focus on avoiding things or avoiding risks. Research showed that when athletes compete with a winning mindset, they manage to perform above and beyond their expectations and observed talent level.

Every day, a leader in a workplace or a business is fighting battles on multiple fronts. He or she must have a winning attitude and should aspire to succeed with his people. It is the only way to overcome mediocrity. It is the ultimate criterion for success. The steps a leader will take to win are different from what he or she will take to ‘not lose’. Trying not to lose is like reacting to the circumstances. It will prevent a leader from winning.

Winning is empowering. It will force a leader to make hard choices, apply dedicated effort, take initiative, be resourceful and invest a considerable amount of time in improving himself/herself and also the followers that will better his or her chances of winning.


In one of the school hockey games, Jack Welch’s team lost the match seventh time in a row. Jack got angry and threw his hockey bat in frustration. His mother held him by the collar and shouted, “If you don’t know how to lose, you will never know how to win. If you don’t know this, you shouldn’t be playing.”

Jack writes that his mother was the most influential person in his life who taught the importance of winning attitude, who taught the value of competition, who taught the pleasure of winning and who taught the need to take defeat in stride.

From his childhood, Jack had played many competitive games. The games increased his competitiveness and also the winning attitude.

Jack writes that his winning attitude gave him courage and extended his reach. It allowed him to take enormous risks and achieve far more than he ever thought possible.


When Lou Gerstner became the CEO of American Express, he intended to make the company a leader in the credit card business. He aspired to win. He worked hard and achieved the goal of making AMEX a leader in its market. Gerstner deemed it a failure if the business obtains the number two position in the market.

Later, Gerstner joined NABISCO. He again wished to make the business number one in the market. Unfortunately, he failed. However, that did not deter him. He analysed the reasons for the failure and made the required corrections. A professional career is like a series of games. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. In the end, we should have more wins than losses. In Nabisco, Gerstner had to play an unfamiliar game. If a leader is not good at playing a particular game, it’s better to quit and discover a game where he/she will have an opportunity to succeed.

Gerstner quit Nabisco and joined IBM. Unfortunately, the PC manufacturer was on the verge of bankruptcy. Everyone believed that Gerstner had made a blunder in joining a sinking ship. Most of the experts had predicted the end of IBM. However, Gerstner wanted to win. He aspired to make the company number one in the respective business. Gerstner wanted the coveted spot.

If a leader is playing to win, he or she will be forced to scan for distinct possibilities and look for ways to exploit them. Lou Gerstner spotted an opportunity in the services sector. He formed IBM Global Services business offering integrated business solutions to customers. In 1996, the division made a business of $7.4 billion. By 2001, the revenue rose to $30 billion. Gerstner observed the internet revolution and the growth of online users. He sensed an opportunity of the ‘Network model of computing’. So, he formed IBM’s network business division which addressed the opportunities and challenges of customer’s networking infrastructure. Thus, Gerstner’s winning attitude played a role in making IBM a leader in e-business.

Lou Gerstner believed that only the winning attitude could motivate a leader to set stretch goals, create high-performance cultures and drive the organisation to adapt and advance faster than their competitors do. He also felt that only his winning attitude propelled him to become a hands-on leader in solving the problems.


Phil Knight’s original leadership team had four significant people.

  • His first employee Jeff Johnson was a runner.
  • His operational manager Woodall was also a runner.
  • His accountant Delbert J Hayes was passionate about numbers. He saw accounting as an art.
  • His lawyer Strausser was good at negotiation. He loved his work.

None of them was motivated by money but by work challenges.

One crucial aspect -All of Phil’s leadership team hires were misfits in other workplaces. They were dismissed, shunned by previous bosses. However, those failures had moulded them.

  • Johnson could not fit into a regular 9–5 work. He was a divorcee, lost his job and got into a critical accident before joining Phil Knight.
  • Hayes’ physical appearance and demeanour played a role in blocking him from becoming a partner in his previous company.
  • Strausser was an insurance lawyer but hated insurance and could not fit himself into the previous company’s policies.
  • Woodall, a track athlete himself, who transformed Nike’s operational management, had lost his legs in an accident and struggled to get a job.
  • Finally, Phil Knight -His dream was to become a baseball player. He worked hard but failed to get into the college team.

Phil Knight writes that one thing was common among everyone in his leadership team — they never faced a ‘winning’ moment in their life till they joined Nike. Nike is about ‘Winning’.

Phil adds -Each person was willing to do whatever was necessary to win, even though most of the required activities fell outside their area of expertise. Consider the case of Johnson -Johnson never sold anything. He hated it, yet he sold the shoes in large quantities -Johnson did not know anything about designing shoes even though he successfully made revolutionary footwear designs -Johnson never visited a manufacturing unit yet he built a factory from scratch and successfully managed it well. Johnson wanted to win in whatever activity he chose.

Great leaders are passionate about winning. They firmly believed in themselves.

The above content is part of the following book -

Essential Leadership Lessons from Top CEOs by Shah Mohammed M.

Reference: Jack-Straight From The Gut by Jack Welch, Why Elephants Can’t Dance by Louis V. Gerstner, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or