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Always Play to Win!

As another football season came to an end with the Super Bowl finale last month, the debate over whether a team should play not to lose or play to win in the final moments always comes up in post-season debates. You know the drill, the team with the lead at the end of the game is faced with the decision to sit on the ball then punt it back to the opponent to see if they can pull out a victory OR the team with the lead commits to controlling the ball and run out the clock. The latter looks something like this: the team with the lead stops the opposing team and receives a punt deep in there own territory with a couple minutes left. The coach calls three running plays up the middle with little chance to get a first down in hopes of burning the other team’s timeouts. On 4th and 3, they punt it back to the trailing team to see if they have what it takes to win. Then, the coach plays a soft, passive defense instead of the “in your face” approach that got them the lead in the first place. More often than not, I see the camera pan over to the bench as the coach and players watch in disbelief as the other team marches down the field to victory.

The other scenario has the coach decide to play the game on his terms. He remains committed to the game plan that has led his team to outpace the competition over the last three quarters. He competently calls plays from his playbook to successfully exploit the weaknesses he recognized over the course of the game. He courageously believes in his team’s ability to win and this confidence becomes contagious to the players and they rise to the occasion to successfully run out the clock with successive first downs-the dejected opponent never gets their hands on the ball again! This leadership style is not only debated on the gridiron but also translates to the business world. For me, the decision is easy-always play to win. Here’s why.

Committed, competent and courageous leaders are masters at planning for near and far term objectives and can easily change course when there is a new competitor or changing market environment. Research, market experience, analysis and hard work are necessary to develop the winning strategy for the team. This extensive planning develops a comprehensive scheme to beat the competition at every level. The leader seeks buy-in on the plan from the group and extends responsibility down to the lowest level. They know the unique skills of their team and how to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. They are proactive to the signs of the market and don’t wait for the competition to dictate a reactive posture. This instills in their team the culture and confidence to constantly give their best effort and not relinquish their advantage of being the leaders of the pack. Every day the team comes to work ready to make first downs and strive for daily excellence. They never sit back waiting to punt to their competitors. A good leader knows a unit on their toes, leaning forward is much better than one on their heels, tentative to take the initiative.

The term that best fits this leadership style came from my first fighter assignment at the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron-the Headhunters. The Latin insignia on our patch read “Audentes Fortuna Juvat”, which translates to “fortune favors the bold”. Look for our new book coming out this spring where I detail the leadership trait of competence when describing the superb leader I encountered in this unit. He taught everyone to always play to win!


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