Career Advice: You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Nor Should You

The gospel of instant career success declares that winning is the only thing that counts.

Fact is real winners on the career path know you can’t win them all, nor should you. If you insist on winning every single point, you set up unnecessary opposition. Let’s face it; The individual who insists on always being right has very few friends and supporters.

You do not have to win every point. It’s a very rare situation that has only one right answer. One instance would be in disarming a live bomb. Another might be brain surgery. Otherwise, several acceptable options usually exist. Unless you are absolutely sure you have the only correct answer, or that your organization will be materially damaged if you don’t prevail, you should let associates win a few. Their abilities as well as their morale will be improved. This strategy of losing deliberately is especially desirable if your boss or your subordinates are involved.


But when common sense says you must win it’s time to fight with tooth and claw.

Winning is not a zero sum matter. There does not have to be a loser for every winner. It is wise when you win to be certain that others feel they won, too. When you lose, accept responsibility, no ifs, ands or buts.

If you expect to make progress you have to take risks. If you take risks you will lose some of the time. You just need to be sure you win enough of the big ones to be a winner at the end of the run.

Thomas Edison recorded some 25,000 failures in his attempt to invent a storage battery. “Those were failures,” he declared. “I learned 24,999 ways not to make a battery.” R. H. Mr. Macy struck out seven times before successfully opened a store. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.

Dr. Harry Levenson, noted psychologist and adviser to management, declared that a key characteristic of successful managers is the willingness to take big risks. “Not crazy risks, but big risks. They are willing to endure the distress of fear and uncertainty until the results are known. They stick with their decisions even when there are some downers before their ideas begin to pay off. They envision outcomes that others, without the same range of perception cannot see, and then act on that basis.”


Perfect Is Not Normal

If you truly want to build a successful career, and you work in an organization that demands that you always be right, you are in trouble. You will either be suffocated or you will frequently be in trouble for trying new ideas and for making the inevitable mistakes that go with them. You should get out as fast as you can, unless you want to live in a restrictive bureaucracy.

You need to be particularly wary of the organization that loudly calls for risks taking, while expecting a hit every time you come to bat. Perfect is not normal.

David Ogilvy, a superstar in the advertising business, told the story of a toy buyer at Sears who made a mistake that cost his company $10 million. When Ogilvy asked the man’s boss if he planned to fire the erring buyer, he replied, “Hell, no. I fire people who never make mistakes, because they never take chances.”

Another business leader told his associates, “Make sure you generate a reasonable number of mistakes, otherwise I won’t know that you trying.”

Bottom line: Be willing to take common sense risks. Be ready to lose some in order to be a big winner in the end.

About the Author: To read more of Ramon Greenwood’s common sense advice on how to protect and advance your career during tough times, sign up for a free subscription to his widely read e-newsletter and participate in his blog at http://www.CommonSenseAtWork.com . He coaches from a successful career as Senior VP at American Express, author of career-related books, and a senior executive/consultant in Fortune 500 companies

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