Several times in my career, I have been privy to the insides of an organization going through rapid change. Faster than an angry Bruce Banner (aka Incredible Hulk) outgrowing his suit and shoes, the organization was busting at the seams in staff overhead, attempting new market entry, a targeted acquisition or some other strategic path.
In each of these situations, it was fascinating to see the leaders who emerged and how they embraced change and uncertainty. The one thing I found to be true in most instances: Leaders consistently want to win. Their desire is complemented by a firm belief that they WILL win. It is not hope-peddling for the sake of drumming up popularity points. It is a possessive disease that does not foresee failure in their future. It is contagious. It is called the IT factor and we want to eat it up.
For example, Michael Jordan had that IT. I get into arguments with many of my friends about the accomplishments of MJ compared to the next generation of NBA greats. And for me it is not the number of championship rings on his pinky finger, or the physical dominance MJ had when he wagged his tongue as he was going up for a slam dunk. The differentiator was the single mindedness of purpose he had, especially in the last critical seconds of the game. He was a winner. He could be shooting 1 for 20, but he would keep shooting and get the shot that mattered. In sharp contrast to some of today’s talent, he was not mentally checked out, thinking about the rims on his beamer or the girls his boys were rounding up for him to bed later that night. He was focused on winning to the point where it was almost difficult to be around him. As an opponent or teammate you succumbed to the aura of his anxiety and handed the ball over to him. And if you did not win it was almost like you felt disgusted for not wanting to win as bad as he did, even although you may have given it everything you had.
There are many of us who want a fraction of what Michael Jordan had. We want to Believe, i.e. believe in ourselves, believe in our family, our work, but we are broken. At some point in our life, we get rejected by a girl, we don’t get into that school, we don’t get that promotion, someone we love dies and it stays with us emotionally forever like a scab that will not heal. We are so wounded from the past that we never see the future of our greatness. We do not go all the way with plans. We settle for the middle. In business, when there is an organizational shift, there is employee resistance due to the worries that they may lose their jobs or job stress. Doubters come out of the pinewood, asking process questions and technical curve balls to trip up management’s decision. It’s an uneasy situation, because while process is important, you can tell, there is something deeper seething in the questioning, which has more to do with the discontentment of them being overlooked for that promotion, or growth opportunity, etc. We have all been there. I have been there. But what I am noticing is that those who get picked to lead a change are the ones who are so focused on winning, they do not care about how the change will affect anything. They just know that whatever happens they should be leading and they BELIEVE they can win.
Last semester I was in an MBA class called Managing and Leading Organizations. The professor randomly started asking individuals in my class “Why should you lead?” And it was astonishing how stumped we all were. None of us could articulate a coherent, personalized, sound answer. One would think that MBAs are de facto leaders who should be able to answer that question easily, passionately, honestly. But surprisingly none of us could deliver the goods (not even the student with the 4.0). The reason was because being an MBA does not make you a leader, nor does anything you accomplish. We may feel entitled to lead because of what we have done, but deep down if we do not really believe that we can win, it does not matter. We are all smart. We know what success looks like, but if we don’t believe in it for ourselves, none of it matters. Winning starts with a confidence that you will WIN. You were born to Win. So I ask you, “Do you believe?”