The Will to Win

Apr 11, 2005

I should be reading now, sitting here in my tight blue “pleather” Northwest Airlines seat on my umpteenth flight this month. But I’m not. Instead, I just wasted a half hour on “Brick Breaker,” a game that came loaded on this, my fourth BlackBerry handheld device. Why am I playing this pointless game, instead of doing any number of more productive chores? Because I want to beat my friend and co-worker, Mark Goodale, who right now has a top score of somewhere north of 6,600, whereas all I have mustered is 6,180. I can’t let him beat me! I have a will to win. This “will to win” is something that you’ve either got or you don’t. It’s impossible to instill this quality in others— yet I hate to give up on the idea! Everyone in the know would agree that architects, engineers, and planners who have the will to win are incredibly valuable. They make things happen. On the other hand, while I don’t know how to make someone have a will to win if it’s not built in to them, I do know that many A/E/P and environmental companies can inadvertently destroy this quality in their people. How do they do it? By having no way, either through individually based bonuses or firm-performance-based bonuses, for anyone to do better than their salary. That destroys the will to win. The problem is compounded when companies institute salary freezes or implement unduly bureaucratic and rigid salary structures. By having high-level people speak disparagingly about the firm. There’s nothing that’s a bigger turnoff to a winner than to work for someone who was born a loser. And born losers are negative about the company and the future. By allowing managers to stay in management jobs who don’t have a will to win and who won’t make the decisions necessary TO win. This is a big problem for all of us— I’ve been guilty myself of letting folks remain in a management role who are good producers, but bad managers because they are paralyzed in the decision-making department. Those with a will to win cannot stand working for people like this! By beating down or punishing those in the firm who seem too competitive with each other or with other firms. There are some firms that have a culture of being nice to everyone all the time. There’s no question this culture is more prevalent in the Southern states— but it’s not limited to this region when it comes to A/E and environmental firms. In my experience, firms that have this culture often end up running off the employees who have the greatest will to win. It starts out with little comments made by the boss in a performance review and culminates with not getting on the list of people who are being offered stock. One gets the idea that this firm is NOT the place for the super-competitive person. Of course, the will to win CAN be taken too far. Some people with it get too carried away and cannot work in a team environment. Like anything, you can have too much of a good thing. I’d rather deal with someone like that, however, than try to turn someone into something they are not. In any event, right now, I need to get back to my game. I cannot let Mark beat me! Originally published 4/11/2005

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