Winners and Losers

The enduring appeal of winners and losers exists in nearly every facet of human activity – sports, education, the arts, politics, and business – and helps assure that anything associated with win-win outcomes, such as Lean management, will struggle.

Managers prefer conventional management because winners and losers are clearly defined and plentiful. And it’s fun to do and fun to watch, despite the risk of being the loser a few times during one’s career. It seems pointless to mitigate that risk through major structural changes. Instead, minor defensive routines are what most people do to avoid being the loser.

Lean management is loved more by managers when the “Respect for People” principle is left out. Doing so enables the perpetuation of win-lose outcomes – what one knows to do best. It is status quo, despite leaders’ persistent calls for change or derision of other people for not being adaptable.

The “Respect for People” principle exists in Lean management to inform leaders that they must think differently and do things differently. The attitude “Who cares, as long as I’m winning” is replaced by “Let’s figure out how to make outcomes better balanced.” Win-win outcomes require leaders to learn how to lead in ways that people prefer, if given a choice, because nobody wants to be the loser.

Yet there is great satisfaction in winning and making someone else the loser. That is why, when it comes to successful Lean transformations, we see many more losers than winners. The zero-sum, win-lose mentality of leaders seals that fate from the start. The winners and losers mentality begets more losers than winners.

Is that part of the plan? Strange if it is, coming from success-oriented people. Look at the second and third charts in this Harvard Business Review blog post to see how win-lose thinking is the driver for executives’ fatal flaws, which, in turn, is the focus of expensive leadership development training. This re-work, to quickly turn top leaders’ decades-long zero-sum mindset into non-zero-sum, is rarely successful.

The enduring appeal of creating winners and losers adds cost but does not add value, and it generates waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness. Traditional leadership development programs will not correct this. Something new and something different is needed. Only then can leaders experience the far greater satisfaction of making everyone a winner.

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