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One of my clients is an organization that has eight board members. The board is made up of talented and hardworking people. They are a diverse group, and they don’t agree on everything. In fact, at times, the board meetings have long and vigorous discussions until a consensus is reached. What is amazing is that most of the time the board members are willing to modify their position or not get what they want so that the right decisions are made for the organization.

However, at times, one member of the board is unable to put what is good for the organization ahead of preserving their position. This person is frequently concerned about whether they are being “respected.” They are often looking for ways to show the others that their issue is most important.

In fact, at a recent board meeting when some very difficult issues were on the agenda, this board member brought a personal issue to the board that caused the meeting to not get to the important business until thirty minutes into the meeting. By the time we got to the real issues, several board members were very frustrated.

A few months ago, the problematic board member was not at the meeting. It was amazing how quickly the meeting progressed. We dealt with several difficult and diverse issues effectively in a short matter of time. We did not get off track as often happened at prior meetings. At the end of the meeting, one of the board members made the comment that the meeting went better than normal. No one had to point out why.

One of my recent articles was based on Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The fourth habit covered in his book is “Think Win-Win.” As I was driving home after this week’s board meeting in a raging rainstorm, I thought how much better this board would function if the problematic board member would think win-win instead of trying to win every issue.

In his book, Covey states that an effective life requires the ability to interact and work well with other people. He believes that success comes from interdependence. To be effective we must be able to deal effectively with people. This requires that we learn to listen well and learn to create synergy when working with others. But most importantly, if we do not approach situations with an attitude of seeking win-win, we will not be successful in situations that require interdependence.

Covey states that “Win-Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.” Without this heart attitude, we cannot be effective working with others.

This concept is counter to our culture which is, unfortunately, overly influenced by the popularity of sports where the emphasis is always on someone winning while someone else loses. Although this makes some sense in sports, it is not a formula that leads to success in life.

People who approach life with the idea of “I win and you lose” may achieve a measure of success for a while. But ultimately the number of people who will allow themselves to be taken advantage of by such an attitude will be depleted.

The situation that exists on my client’s board has resulted in this board member becoming essentially irrelevant on the board.  This board member’s obsession about making sure they are respected has made them an obstacle. Their failure to work with the other board members has resulted in a less effective board. And a board member who is wasting their time being on the board.

As harmful as win-lose can be, people who approach life with a lose-win attitude also cannot be effective. These are people who have no standards, no demands, no expectations, or vision. They will do anything to keep peace. Sometimes they will passively/aggressively pretend to go along and then later undermine the group effort via gossip.

People who live this way are repressing feelings that later come out in anger or other ugly ways. Ultimately their insincere compliance causes problems down the road that undermine what seemed to be accomplished when they pretended they agreed with the Win-Win. They often destroy what teamwork seemed to accomplish.

What is the answer?

Always seek win-win. Make sure you approach all collaborative situations with a win-win attitude. If there are members on the team who don’t get the idea of win-win, you must exercise leadership and help them change their attitude. If they do not change, you should do everything you can to get them off the team.

In addition, make sure you frequently check your attitude and your goals. Are you seeking win-win? Have you put too much emphasis on achieving your goals at the expense of others? Are you more worried about how you are seen by others than you are about the mission of the team?

Win-win starts in the heart. It means you understand at a deep emotional level that doing what is right for the whole group is more important than your own agenda. If you are not able to seek win-win in a situation, then you should do yourself – and everyone else that is involved – a favor and opt out. You won’t be missed!
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