No one likes to lose.

Whether a single game, or a season’s campaign…a friendly wager, or betting the farm…a skirmish, or a war…even a conversation or a debate — winning has become a definitive measure of success.

We want to win.

A winning attitude is an asset to be prized in colleagues, and cultivated in youth. Organizations perceived as successful attract followers, patrons and fanatics. From sports franchise to Main Street enterprise, brand managers bank on our desire to be affiliated with a winner.

We hold as inspired the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”

Question. Somehow along the way, have we allowed a whatever-it-takes pursuit of victory to chip away at our understanding of real success?

Somehow we seem to be losing ground in some places where the stakes are highest. Rarely has this been more clear than in the wake of revelations surrounding the disgrace at the storied Penn State football program. This is not another Paterno post; but spin it anyway you like — one of the issues highlighted by the Freeh Report is the byproduct of a distorted view of what it means to win.

And let’s not pretend this distortion is limited to sporting interests. Name the industry or service sector; if stature, power or fiscal ground is at stake, there are far too many examples of, at best, a misunderstood and at worst, a warped view of what it means to succeed.

Olympic Sized Rhetoric

With the XXX Olympiad in London days away, promos heralding the value inherent in competition are reminiscent of an adage that used to define sportsmanship — “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

Does anyone still believe this? Did we ever?

Or have we always revered the applicable scoreboard above all else? And might this misplaced reverence be at the center of some critical games-gone-wrong?

From personal relationships to the development of enterprise…from the office to global seats of power…when competition trumps collaboration, progress come to a grinding halt.

While an important metric, leaders understand that inaccurate benchmarking is one-dimensional. Absent a view and understanding of everything at stake, keeping score skews perspective, and limits success.

This is not an argument for mediocrity. Nor is it a suggestion that we should somehow be comfortable with losing. It is to underscore what most of us know —  that, whatever the venue, before we buy into the idea that winning “is the only thing,” we had better understand the nature of the game…and all that is at stake.