Want to Win in Business? Focus on the Play (Not the Victory)

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

It seems counterintuitive that you could actually win more (in sports, life, or business) by shifting focus away from the victory. But Coach Bill Walsh (named the second greatest coach in NFL history by ESPN) provides one of the most powerful examples of doing exactly that. Because of his sincere love and respect for the game of football, Walsh focused on training his team to play with precision and celebrated every well-executed play, whether or not that play resulted in a score or a win. It didn’t matter to Walsh if the play was unsuccessful in its results as much as that it was successful in its execution. On the other hand, if a “successful” play was executed sloppily, it would be corrected. Coach Walsh’s approach worked. In his 10 years with the 49ers, he led his team to nine major victories—“six division titles and three Super Bowls.”

The same principles apply to us as business leaders. The more we focus on winning, the more stressful and less productive the environment becomes. The more we focus on the “plays,” the more successful we are as individuals and as leaders.

Top Five Ways to Shift Focus and Increase Your Probability of Success:

  • Focus on what you can control (processes, people, culture, etc.) rather than what you can’t (circumstances such as the economy, the competition, etc.).
  • By extension, hold yourselves/your team accountable by using measurements of success that focus on those factors you can control.
  • Focus on culture. A culture that focuses on long-term goals without getting stressed about the short-term ones is a constructive culture.
  • Train to build instinct. Bill Walsh liked to practice so hard that the plays became instinctual. In the sales department, a “play” might be closing someone on the value of the product or convincing them that the proposed solution is the best available option. These “plays” may or may not lead to someone signing on the dotted line.
  • Focus on improving your/your team’s understanding and execution of winning plays/behaviors.

Additional Insight and Key Takeaways:

  • Focusing less on the win isn’t about lowering the standard. It’s about creating an environment around the disciplined execution of winning plays (the process).
  • Spending all your focus on the desired end result will cause an environment where team members will be afraid to admit when the intended results don’t happen or when they make a mistake. The more you focus on results, the more people panic.
  • Where shame/panic exist, confidence does not.
  • Without confidence, salespeople won’t sell, and people company-wide will not feel the freedom to fail or to share new ideas.
  • Highly-disciplined execution of plays doesn’t just happen. It requires you to practice and/or invest in yourself and your team members.

Take this approach, and you’ll not only “win” and garner success with integrity, but your team members will feel respected and valued. And that’s a team they’re going to want to play on.

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