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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hunter

Do Winning Cultures Lead to Winning Teams, or Vice-Versa?



This is about teams and leadership in a sports wrapper. A narrative we often hear is that winning is the result of a winning culture and mindset. In my experience in both sports and business, I think it's the other way around. Winning leads to a winning culture.


Every coach says essentially the same things in their pre-game speeches, but only the winning coach's comments get published, as if they were not only predictive of the win, but its cause (as opposed to having better talent, playing better than the opponent on that day, or in some cases, the vagaries of a fumbled ball that simply bounced their way). Every player interview is similarly interchangeable and goes a little something like this: “We got each other’s backs. We never stopped believing in one another, no matter what adversity came our way.”


It's smart P.R. – and team management – to commend in public and condemn in private. But winning teams have more to commend and losing teams more to condemn.


I've seen this phenomenon in something as trivial as "beer league" hockey. We lost a recent game 6-1, and a teammate tried to pin the blame on one of my fellow defensemen. I pointed out that I, when unable to find an open teammate to pass to, uncharacteristically gave the puck up to our opponent, who promptly scored their 5th goal. And that it takes all of us to lose, especially by that score. I'm also no Mother Teresa; on other occasions I've been vocal about where I think others need to improve (but seldom after a win, I've observed). 


I've also seen it play out in business when losing a multi-million-dollar advertising client pitch. Despite a string of several account wins, there's naturally more introspection, confusion, and heartache in dissecting a loss. We went into each pitch with essentially the same team and mindset. But we truly felt like winners only when we won.


Good leaders keep their teams motivated by celebrating wins while keeping them humble by asking how together we might get even better, and treating losses by supporting their team, taking personal accountability, and (again) asking how together we might get better. 


That said, there’s no better way to make your people feel like winners than by winning.



(Posted to LinkedIn January, 2024)

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