Winners and Losers

I was a teenager in 1973, when a friend gave me a copy of a recently published book, Winners and Losers. Over the years the book has served as mentor and friend during times when I needed to apply a lesson learned from the author, Sydney Harris. Sometimes, reading a book allows the reader to avoid having to “touch the stove” to learn a lesson. Several years ago I purchased two used copies of Harris’ book (it has long been out of print) on amazon.com. I gave one to each of my daughters with a note telling them I hoped the book would be as valuable to them as it is to me. Over the years, each of them has mentioned a particular page that helped them through an issue. Last week, my oldest daughter handed me her book loaded with notes attached to the pages telling me specific lessons she has learned.
As a recruiter for Cameron-Brooks, I am often asked by junior military officers (JMOs) what they can do to be well prepared to make a successful transition from active military service to corporate America. One of the most beneficial tools I mention is to establish a professional reading program. Our team reads hundreds of business books and often discusses professional reading with business leaders. As a result of these discussions and our experience, we developed a professional reading list that is part of our Development & Preparation Program©. Many of the books in our reading program have been written by leading authors. Few people have heard of Sydney Harris, and his book may never make our list, but it has a value for those like me who pick up the book and find one page that speaks about a timely issue that will help approve the ability to lead more effectively. Here are a few excerpts:
1. A winner makes commitments; a loser makes promises. Roger Cameron says, “Leaders get promoted based on their big accomplishments and build reputations based on the little things” – making commitments and keeping them – phone calls, appointments, returning e-mails, etc.
2. A winner listens; a loser just waits until it is his turn to talk.  In describing how they lead a team, JMOs often tell me they talk to their team. It is rare to hear someone tell me they listen. I recommend, reading  The Lost Art of Listening, by Michael Nichols.
3.  A winner says, “There ought to be a better way to do it”; a loser says, “That’s the way it’s always been done here.” Companies hire leaders to make improvements. What got us where we are today will not get us where we want to be tomorrow.
4.  A winner respects those who are superior to him, and tries to learn something from them; a loser resents those who are superior to him and tries to find chinks in their armor. Occasionally, I interview someone who wants to leave the military because they don’t respect their senior leadership. The military doesn’t have a lock on bad bosses. We have our fair share in business. It takes effort and skill to learn that everyone has strengths to admire and emulate; and weaknesses to avoid and take lessons from.
5.  A winner has a healthy appreciation for his abilities, and a keen awareness of his limitations; a loser is oblivious both of his true abilities and his true limitations.  We encourage our Cameron-Brooks candidates to develop answers to commonly asked interview questions. “Tell me about a weakness” is a common question. Include what you are doing to improve or mitigate the limitation.
6.  A loser is envious of winners and contemptuous of other losers; a winner judges others only by how well they live up to their own capacities, not by some external scale of worldly success, and can have more respect for a capable shoeshine boy than for a crass opportunist. I keep an article on my desk that I read in USA Today several years ago about Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson who wrote a booklet titled, “Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management.” He says, “Watch out for people who have a situational value system; who can turn the charm on or off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with.” Steve Odland, CEO of Office Depot said, “People with situational values have situational ethics, and those are people to be avoided.”

Lessons come from many sources. Perhaps some of you will find and read your own copy of Winners and Losers, learn a lesson, and like me avoid touching the stove quite so often.

Steve Sosland