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Why some winners fight losing battles?

By G. Balasubramanian

“Battles have to be fought; they need not be won” argued my friend. “Yes, when you fight a battle, you have put in all your efforts, resources, intelligence, might and focus. But, for one or the other reason you lose the battle you don’t have to regret, because you have fought the battle maximizing your inputs. Nevertheless, one cannot enter a battlefield with the view that one may not win and hence can take things easy.”

I have always admired the statement of Sun-Tzu in his book “The Art of War”: “You may not be interested in the war; but the war is interested in you.” Oftentimes, we are forced to be a part of a battle even without our desire or intent to be in that environment. Well, winning a battle, winning a game, winning over an obstacle is always satisfying. The spirit of winning always pumps so much of energy into the system; it reinvigorates our dormant faculties; it helps to converge our thoughts, plans and actions. But there are several people who have all the resources to win a battle, win a challenge, win in a professional endeavor, but fight losing battles. What could be the reason? Sun-Tzu says, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” In many cases, one small misconception, one insignificant misgiving, one careless step, one small defeat makes them handicaps. They yield to self-pity, self-defeat and declare themselves as not competent just ignoring a bundle of skills, talents, and positive attitudes they have. “There are winners, there are losers and there are people who have not yet learned how to win” says Les Brown

Shravan was my classmate six decades ago. I often used to envy him for his multi-faceted talent. He had studied in an English Medium School and hence was fluent in English. He was a good communicator while I struggled to articulate a few sentences. He had a library of his own and a good collection of books. He was a good material for a senior management position. The only problem with him was that he was brutally honest and was quite outspoken. He lacked diplomacy. He used to react rather than respond. That is the way he was. Though I thought that he would scale to high positions in corporate, he could not stick to any company for more than a year or two. Over the years, his career almost became a disaster. He migrated from brand companies to smaller ones. He compromised with whatever he got. Any amount of counselling wouldn’t help him as he always thought he was right, and he should stand firm on what he thought was right. Over the five decades, he yielded to self-pity and self-contempt putting forward the argument that straight-forwardness has no place in a professional environment. He says “I have fought losing battles. No problem. That is my destiny.” “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had” says F. Scott Fitzgerald “ What Shravan could have done? Instead of reacting every time for everything, he would have tried to understand their point of view. “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them” says Orson Scott Card in his book “Ender's Game”.

Emily was a brilliant lady in her late thirties. She was quite enterprising. She used every single opportunity knocking at her door to her own advantage. She was not only intelligent, shrewd, clever, and forward looking, but was looking at her growth curve day in day out. And that was the problem. Inability to stay put in a place for some reasonable time because she was authoritative, adamant, and oppressive. Though the corporate managements looked at her as a great potential to grow, her expressions and communications lacked grace and wisdom. Consequently, though every one admired her leadership, they argued that she was not a right role model for the top leadership of the company. The company believed that her presence would impact the mindset of other employees of the company. She often raised the question ‘Why are companies unable to understand me?” least realizing that she was responsible for her faults, as she neither understood the culture of the company nor was willing to change given the opportunities. She failed to evaluate herself and her performance in the given position so that she could make amends to stand up to the challenge. Says Shannon Adler “Your strength will be found when you stop struggling with yourself, instead of thinking everyone is a struggle worth overcoming. Every obstacle in life is a lesson that teaches us, not others.”

Mukesh was a leader of sorts. He held a doctorate degree in technology. He had inherited the business from the family. Therefore, he could understand the nuts and bolts of the organization. He always enjoyed being with the people, giving instructions for everything. People in the company knew well that he wants to control everything right from the maintenance of restrooms to the car and auto parking outside the campus. The crew in the company always wondered when he would grow better and beyond. With a huge financial back up, he was suffocating inside without knowing what else he should do. The Problem with Mukesh was that he wanted to outwit every advisor, counsellor with “I know it all” syndrome. The moment Mukesh comes to know the public recognition of his competitors in the field he gets upset and says, “This world is not for those who perform; but only for people who can influence.” “Sir, there is no point in fighting with this system, because it doesn’t reach out to people who are silent workers. "He fails to understand he lacks growth mindset. In short, Mukesh lacks vision.

“ Vision gets the dreams started. Dreaming employs your God-given imagination to reinforce the vision. Both are part of something I believe is necessary to building the life of a champion, a winner, a person of high character who is consistently at the top of whatever game he or she is in” says Emmitt Smith

In the article “Why the Best winners are actually losers” in Forbes magazine, Dr. Rob Fazio observes “A competitive spirit has value, but when it becomes an obsession, it is the very thing that sets you up to become a long-term loser. If we are narrowly focused on beating the person in front of us, we lose sight of what could be truly key to our success. Focusing on the big picture and what you want for the long term can help you be more strategic and get the results you want”.

Vishal was a prominent leader in his profession. He has a track record of nearly two decades when people looked up to his organization for guidance. Vishal, however, was living on the glory of the organization, rather than his own personal profile. People slowly started avoiding him. He failed to grow with change. He failed to transform with change. He enjoyed encomiums and as many awards as possible as testimony to his excellence. He outlived the meaning of the term “Deserve and Desire”. Consequent to his irrelevance to changing times, the institution was getting marginalized. He failed to understand that you cannot fight a nuclear war with gun powder. His definition of ‘success’ and ‘winning’ was no more marketable. There are many like Vishal in each profession who take responsibility of their professional suicide. Says Bill Clinton "The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change."

Though in all the above cases, they had some latent talent, competency, knowledge, and skill, they lost their battles because of some inadequacies. We need to understand the implication of the words of Douglas McArthur, “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent."