Every champion in history understood one thing their lesser rivals either forgot – or overlooked entirely: it shouldn’t matter whether you emerge the victor in every contest; it only matters that you’ve beaten your own last, best performance on your chosen field of battle.
Champions aren’t limited to the sports world. But they are the most obvious, especially with extravaganzas like the Super Bowl, World Cup, Olympics and World Series showing on every TV, smartphone screen and billboard we encounter. There are competitions happening all around us every day, each with a winner, and often several losers … many of whom may not even know there’s a game on, let alone bringing their best to the field.
Champions are different.
The original champions of antiquity were warriors who did battle in single combat as a proxy to spare the lives of their armies. Think Brad Pitt as Achilles versus Troy’s Eric Bana as Hector in the film depiction of Homer’s Iliad. But even in sports, when we cheer for an athlete who scores a goal, they are, in every sense, still acting as our surrogates. We imagine that’s us down there on the field! That’s one reason so many people internalize the misbehavior some athletes find themselves participating in … to them, that’s as if they themselves had done it!
Champions focus on the big picture and their big dream. Champions never, ever give up on that dream. Champions live to serve others and find ways to serve their own interests in the process. Champions intentionally push beyond their comfort zone to find new limits. Champions believe they will win, but also understand it’s because they’ve pushed themselves harder, faster and longer than their rival. Their passion for winning the game is contagious and it drives them to learn how to be the very best at what they do.
But that determination and commitment aren’t so fragile as to destroy them when the inevitable loss deals them a blow. Champions turn failure into feedback and act to recommit themselves and their teammates to that big picture dream. Champions love their competitors because they know a rival is the best motivation for performance improvement.
Champions understand winning is a habit. And, as Vince Lombardi reminded us, so is losing:
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.… I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour – his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” ~ Coach Vincent T. Lombardi – What It Takes to be Number One
The antithesis of the champion, however, isn’t the loser; anti-champions are defined instead by a failure even to try. Like the contrast of love being apathy (as opposed to hate), in every champion’s heart, lies a desire to win, living quite comfortably alongside their humble willingness to put their whole ego on the line every time they take the field, potentially ending up a loser. Champions also know the factors that decide the victor in that day’s contest will likely be something their rival either forgot or overlooked entirely – and is often a trait uniquely gifted to the one who emerges victorious.
The Secret Weapon in Every Champion’s Arsenal
In the Biblical account of David and Goliath, a smaller challenger faces a seemingly unstoppable opponent, literally, a giant of a warrior with a sword bigger than he was. But the boy king David had an insurmountable, non-obvious advantage over the gigantic Philistine from Gath: The ability to kill at range, with a weapon (his simple sling) that he had practiced with from his earliest childhood as a shepherd defending his flock from all manner of wild predators.
As much or more than the older, far stronger Goliath had spent his time swinging that gigantic sword in battle, David had honed his skills with his sling to send a large caliber stone 100 meters or more downrange at speeds approaching 30 meters per second. Don’t take my word for it, I’m borrowing this story from Malcolm Gladwell and his recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. David was far more experienced with a better suited form of fighting for that particular battle.
And so are you; and so is your organization.
Your company, for example, is uniquely gifted at something that will determine its ability to win. There is a trait, characteristic, value or ability that no other organization in your space (or an adjacent space you covet) can effectively compete with. A champion will not only find that unique gift, they will learn how to wield it better, faster and with more decisive force than any other warrior on the battlefield.
What’s your secret weapon? Find it and you too will learn what it takes for you and your team to become champions.
Arik Johnson is Chairman of Aurora WDC, the strategy, innovation and competitive intelligence consultancy he founded in 1995. Arik stepped aside as CEO in 2010, to launch Aurora’s insights and analytics R&D lab and policy think tank, the Centers for Open Reconnaissance (COR.vc), and today pursues his passion for helping organizations of all kinds find their next championship opportunity in the markets and industries where they compete.