How to Win When You’re Losing
One of the most important things a leader can do for their team is build a positive and rewarding environment for their work. Reaching goals consistently as a team goes a long way toward building team confidence and esprit de corps, but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
The first 2.5 years of my professional career were spent in sales, including a year in sales management. Nobody could have prepared me for the heartaches, the headaches, and the stomach aches that came from the stress of my stint as a manager. As a first-time manager, I envisioned inspiring and motivating my team to find their purpose and crush their goals. Instead, like many others at the time, I found myself leading my team through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, constantly chasing after a seemingly impossible number. I was attempting to find my happiness in our end-of-month results and – shocker – I was never happy and neither was my team. I knew something had to change, and a few months in I realized that the best way for my team to win consistently was to shift my mindset from “How can we hit our quota?” to “How can we win every day?”
Creating a winning culture goes beyond hitting your number, it’s a mindset shift that requires energizing your team on a daily basis. Here are four key lessons I learned about how to create a winning culture, even when you’re losing:
1. Focus inward
It’s easy to compare your team’s success to the other teams around you. Whether they’re closer to their quota or they’re further along in their project, at the end of the day, their wins have little to do with your losses. Have a meeting with your team to discuss where the team is starting and how they can expand beyond their own limits. Keep track of their daily progress and help them set new goals for themselves. Don’t focus on beating others, focus on beating your personal best.
2. Be transparent and communicate often
It’s important to be realistic with your team about where they are and let them know you’re there to help. Hold daily or weekly meetings to discuss progress and identify what the team needs to achieve the goal. This doesn’t mean coming down with a hammer. It means if you are behind, be open about it and let them know they can still move forward. Communicate with them to keep them motivated and reflect on and adapt your process as needed.
3. Model emotional intelligence
When things seem to be going south, the first person your team will look to is… you guessed it, YOU! Remember that as a leader, you “bring the weather” – remain calm, cool, and collected even in times of stress. Read the room and respond in a way that keeps the team focused on the goal and engaged in finding a solution. If you find yourself struggling in these moments, take a deep breath and imagine yourself in their seat. How would you need your leader to communicate with you in the moment?
4. Recognize, reward, and repeat
Don’t just reward your team on the final product, reward them throughout the process by setting small goals with them. Beyond looking only for goal-attainment indicators, identify wins on a daily and weekly basis that show progress, professional development, and passion in your team. Give recognition generously, in the moment, and share details about what you’ve observed. Be thoughtful about how to offer your recognition; some people like to be rewarded with a high five, others with an email, and some just want to know you’re paying attention with a quick message of encouragement. Your team needs to feel seen for their efforts without feeling like it’s a conditional agreement.
As a leader, you might be faced with uncontrollable losses, but what you can control is your mindset and the environment you create. Not everybody can have the winning team, but you can always build a winning culture.