“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!” Such is the philosophy of many sportspeople, first coined by an American college football coach, Red Saunders, but later popularised by the more celebrated coach Vince Lombardi.
by Tim Middleton
It has become the justification for the behaviour, attitude and approach of many individuals and teams throughout the world. It leads to a “Win-at-all-costs” attitude; it invokes players to believe, “We’ve got to win!”
Yet such a statement is only partly correct. It is true that winning is not everything but it is not the only thing. In fact, we need to turn the follow-up line around slightly — winning is not the only thing but there is only one thing you must win. That one thing that we must win is not the match or tournament or trophy or cap (though our coaches, our parents, our press would tell us it is); the one thing that we must win is not even that argument, that fight, that point (though we may think our lives, marriages or businesses depend on it). Furthermore, the one thing we must win is not influential friends, impressive contracts or lucrative jobs. The one thing we must win is the last thing we may think we must win. It is the very thing we do not win by our desperation to win any of the above. The only thing we must win and which we must teach our children to win is respect.
It is a sad and deeply ironic situation that the very people who are perceived to be “successful”, the “winners”, the leaders of our society (prefects in schools, politicians, bosses) demand respect from those around them, presumably in the vain hope that it will reveal that they matter and are important. However, by demanding respect they will not win respect; demanding respect of others will only make others compliant (and being “compliant” is not far removed from “complaint”). No-one will win respect by brute force or even force of character, nor by corruption, deception, bribery, reaction, duplicity (double standards), arrogance, bullying — no-one wins respect by asking of others (as is often the case), “Do you know who I am? I am a VIP.”
People, starting with pupils, must learn to win respect, not to demand it. They can do that by achieving straight As in all their thinking. Firstly, they must adhere to their principles, beliefs and standards. People respect those who genuinely believe something and do not say one thing, but do another or change their views depending on whom they are addressing. People will not respect (but will rather resent) those who say “I will do as they did to me, regardless of whether it is right”. Adhering to principles will win the greatest respect.
Secondly, they must admit their errors and apologise when they have done wrong; they must accept responsibility for their own actions as well as their consequences and not try to blame others.
Greater respect will be won by doing that, as opposed to pretending they are not wrong. How often do we hear leaders apologising or stepping down? People will also respect those who are prepared to ask for help or suggestions and those who then acknowledge the help they have received (more than those who are too proud to ask or who will not give credit to others). Far more respect is won when we say “thank you” and “well done” to those whom we lead.
Thirdly, they must be willing to attempt difficult tasks (not shrink from challenges, out of fear of being beaten), if they wish to gain respect. Don’t die wondering; do dare trying. It will encourage others to try. Respect is won when people appreciate effort more than ability. It is won when people avoid the petty, the trivial, the slander, the aggression but rather continue in humility.
However, the most obvious, easiest and simplest way to gain respect is to give respect. You do not win respect by demanding it; you win it by giving it. That respect will be seen in someone who is calm, humble, principled, open-minded, genuine, reliable and sensitive. Respect literally means looking closely (“-spect” as in “spectacles”, “inspect”) again (“re-” as in “review”, “return”, “repay”). We need to look again at others, instead of constantly looking to ourselves, and see them as being worthy of respect, honour, dignity, integrity, rather than seeing them as useful tools or objects.
This is the only thing that we must win — respect. If we do not win that, we have lost everything. We say it again — winning respect is everything — end of!
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.