Leadership lessons: Leadership is not about winning, it’s about setting the stage so that others can succeed

Wendy Vonderhaar

CEO

Thursday, November 13, 2014

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I remember my first lesson on the meaning of leadership. The day I learned the tough lesson that “life is not fair.” I was seven and at a summer league swim meet. I was excited because I had just won my race and was showing my mom my first-ever blue ribbon. As I basked in the glory, I noticed a friend in the same race and her mom approaching us. Her mom looked directly at me and said, “Wendy, you know that Susan won that race – you need to give your blue ribbon to her.” I looked at my mom, and without exchanging words, her look said, “Give her the ribbon – this is obviously important to her.” I slowly handed over my blue ribbon and took the red ribbon in return. As tears welled up in my eyes, my mother assured me that I did win the race and that losing is tough for some people. She told me that I swam my best time and no one can take that away from me and to look inwardly for affirmation, not from a ribbon.

This event is crystalized in my mind even though it happened nearly 40 years ago. I think about it often as I go through life - raising children, volunteering and leading an organization. The reality is that leadership is not about winning. It’s about setting the stage so that others can succeed. Most importantly, it’s about being a positive role model and exhibiting the behaviors you want in others.

These lessons came flooding back as I had lunch with Brenda Corbett, an Executive Coach that I worked with years ago, and she gave me one of her recent books, “What’s Your Impact on Business?” It was a quick read and the basic premise is Positive Skills + Positive Behavior = Positive Impact on Business.

Hopefully, as a leader, you have the basic knowledge and functional skills to do the job – that is probably what got you to where you are today. However, are you exhibiting the right behaviors? Are they getting you the results you want? The reality is that if you exhibit positive behavior, everyone’s behavior around you will improve. This holds true in nearly every aspect of life – with business associates, children and even your spouse. If you constantly try to “win,” others lose and that does not help achieve most objectives, unless perhaps you’re “going for the gold.”

As a naturally competitive person, this is something I must remind myself of often. I happen to have a daughter with the same trait and we can go head-to-head both trying to get the last word, both trying to “win.” The problem is that I am the adult and I should know better. Let’s just say I’m a work in progress. Most good leaders are looking for ways to be more effective. If you fall into that camp, I recommend reading Brenda’s book and reflecting on how to improve your behavior to get better results.

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