Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

Build to Win

There has been a lot of public pronouncements about winning lately but what does ‘winning’ really mean? Is it making others the enemy and then ‘squashing the competition’ to come out on top? Or could that short-term strategy end up making you the loser over the long term? If you want to be considered a winner over both the long term and the short term you need to incorporate both into your game.

Those who focus on the short term win like the immediate gratification of rising above their peers. With their eye on the prize they want results yesterday. (Naturally to feel like a true winner they want those wins faster than others!) At the other end of the spectrum are people who play the long game. They invite others to meet at the same level and don’t view winning as an either/or, believing instead that a win-win offers better collaborative outcomes. But sometimes all this focus on equality can make it difficult for an individual to get ahead. So what’s the answer?

It took a CEO with an innate sense balancing these two extremes to teach me the value of not competitively rushing into action but instead leaning back and adopting a long-term strategy. He was willing to appear to be a loser in order to win overall. I remember him coming into my office in late 1990 and sitting half-perched on my oak credenza. I could tell by the serious look on his face that the topic was an important one, and I put down my pen to listen.

He crossed his arms, pursed his lips, and began to describe the serious situation that had developed with potash exports from Russia. The centralized government of the USSR had traditionally kept their potash for internal use behind the Iron Curtain. With perestroika (the political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), their mines were now allowed to export anything produced over and above their internal consumption requirements.

This potash was making its way into world markets, and we were facing the occasional USSR ship offering to sell its potash contents to customers that we considered ‘ours.’ When one of these rogue USSR ships arrived in a country, the customers there would call and advise us that the USSR was undercutting our prices. They would offer to continue buying from us—if we would lower our price. The CEO wanted me to be aware of our position in case the investment community called with questions: we were not going to match the lower prices.

“XYZ is our customer and an important part of our market share … how could we let them buy from the Russians?” I gasped.

With a slight smile at my passionate outburst, my CEO patiently explained our strategy. As soon as a ship full of potash left the harbor in the USSR, it was not going back until it was empty. If we matched the price for the first customer, the ship would just offer the lower price to a different customer. Then we would be forced to respond to that customer by again lowering our price. Potentially, instead of losing one customer to a lower price, we would undercut ourselves multiple times, losing much more financially than we would by simply ignoring the USSR from the outset.

When faced with similar circumstances, many people would have reacted to the short-term problem in isolation. They would have immediately jumped in to protect their market share. Instead, my CEO chose a wide-angle lens to look at the big picture and see how a move now might impact the future. He then worked backwards and determined that it was better to take the long-term view and wait it out. His wisdom and logic were undeniable.

While this CEO definitely liked to win in the market and be ahead of his competition, he adeptly shifted and used a more long-term strategy. He analyzed his strategy like a chess master, not making a move until he had reasoned through every possible and probable move of opponents all the way to the end game. In the moment, a skilled chess player may sacrifice a queen, less concerned about the short-term danger of losing it than about the cost of keeping it and what that will mean for the following moves and overall strategy.

Conversely, those who spend too much time on the long-term without considering the short term are in danger of becoming disoriented, as nothing has meaning or context. Considering only the short term can provide immediate gratification, but when there is too much desire to always win, always to be quicker and better than everyone right now, and it isn’t balanced with consideration for the long term, it can lead to irresponsible actions. (Think of a chipmunk that neglects to store nuts for the winter.)

It is crucial to remember that short-term decisions affect the long-term livelihood of the business, and the two are inexorably intertwined. One never operates in isolation from the other. In fact, it is best if all short-term decisions are made within the context of a long-term plan. When they are worked together using the benefits of Gender Physics, the company has the opportunity to truly flourish.

There is no one right approach, it is situation specific. There are times you just need to get things done, and beat the competition, and there are times to be long-term a strategic partner. The point is, there is no one approach that works for every situation. Leaders need to know when to apply a more winning approach and a more building approach.

Balancing these two “energies” can be tricky but my book Gender Physics helps you identify your Go-To Energy, how each energy can work in different situations, and most importantly, provides some simple exercises to help you use both.

Finally, remember the words of Tony Blair who said, “Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing”.