Shift Winning Well to Creating Well

By March 26, 2016Generations

creating wellWhat does it mean to win well? In business and leadership, I have learned a few things. On winning well, I have learned:

  • Winning without integrity is losing big.
  • Winning without a true collaborative spirit is losing possibility.
  • Winning through self-centered dominance wastes talent and opportunity.
  • Winning by always being right is wrong.
  • Winning through cash only will be lonely in the end.

We know what winning well isn’t, yet too many have these experiences. The last three words in the last bullet is what defines winning well – “In the end.” These words will echo through an individual’s soul if they have a soul that can still see a pinhole of light.

Winning at all costs has taken too much of our business time. Our recent business history is littered with examples. The list of leaders who try to win at all costs is long – Kenneth Lay (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom), Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco International), Chainsaw Al Dunlop (Sunbeam), and then there is the financial list – Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide Financial), Joe Cassano (AIG), Bernie Madoff (Madoff Investment Securities), Dick Fuld (Lehman Brothers), and the list continues. Volkswagen is just the latest one.

Winning at all costs is not winning well. Damaged trust, unengaged team members, false growth, and damaged financial outcomes are the real costs. In the end, people are hurt.

Winning Well: My Dad

When I think about winning well, I think of my Dad. A farmer. He ran his business with integrity, consistency, and an orientation toward family and community. We always knew where Dad stood. No matter the weather or situation, Dad did the work. Dad set expectations for us, and we knew the consequences if we did not meet them. He gave back, not only to the land itself but to his community and church. He was frugal yet provided.

What does he have to show for it all? The simple answer is Dad was never a showman. He will leave behind land that keeps producing. He will leave behind four kids with a solid principles. He will leave behind a partner of more than 50 years in which love was expressed for each other, every day. He will leave behind a better church and a community that continues to gather.

All this may seem unexciting, and it really isn’t winning. And that is the point. We have put “winning” too often at the center of what we do or plan to do. Our current political situation is an example of winning gone awry.

Dad never thought about winning. Winning was creating – creating a good life work of planting, harvesting, giving, loving, trusting, and being a positive example with integrity, accountability, and kindness.

Winning has taken over too much of our culture, and we have forgotten the important things in work and life.

Creating Well: Three Cylinders Tuned with Solid Principles

Winning well is firing on life, family, and career cylinders. Each cylinder is interlinked and rarely do they all work in positive unison. As much as we try to tune for performance, the unexpected always happens. How we respond says a lot about us as a person and leader. How we respond and act says a lot about whether we are creating well.

The keys to creating well are to keep certain principles and facts in mind.

Respect. Respect is not “I did this.” Respect is “We did this.” Getting caught in the first is not creating well. Being recognized in the second is creating well. Respect comes through collaborative, higher purpose work. We need to begin and end with respect. Self-respect is essential, too, as it keep us in a healthy mindset to build healthy relationships. Respect works from the inside out and outside in. Mutual respect is empowering.

Honesty and humility. Honesty and humility go hand-in-hand. Being honest in our work means we won’t get off track. When we need to be honest with another person, we are humble in the delivery. The same applies to self-honesty. Being honest is not the same as being right. Being right can become righteous. Again, humility keeps our honesty embraced in empathy. Within this blend, we create with integrity and self-awareness. We create relationships in which we make each other better through accountability and growth.

Purpose. Purpose is not all about self. Purpose is about a higher mission, calling, and result. Purpose enlivens us and those around us. Purpose leaves people and places better than we entered. Creating well skips past self-centeredness and sparks work to produce better results for our team, business, family, and community.

Entanglements. Office politics can derail us. Layoffs can deflate us. Bad economics or competitiveness can stall us. We will hit the wall, and the wall will hit us. These are career facts. How we respond, navigate, and thrive will be an example of how we can create well in challenging and good times. In our entanglements, our character and purpose will be tested. Each will be strengthened when we learn from the experience. Entanglements test and enrich. The outcome needs to be renewed growth.

Richness. Giving is being rich. No matter how much we have, we have the capability to give a smile, hold a door, lift up, and leave a legacy. Richness is not the biggest home, car, or job. Richness is how we make others feel. In work and life, there are many temptations to distract us. Focusing on the right type of richness means we are creating an environment in which our family, colleagues, and neighbors can feel good about who they are and what they can offer. Be rich in what you create.

Creating well requires us to tune our cylinders of life, family, and career. We will rarely have all cylinders working in unison. One will be firing well, and two will not. Two will be firing well, and one will not. All three may be off. What matters is how we continue to create in all situations. What matters is what lasts in what we create.

Shift to Creating Well

We need to shift out of our winning obsession. Winning has become doing what is good for some at the expense of the many. Winning has become degrading some people in order to advance our personal agenda. Winning has become saying anything to rile up rather than setting the example of how to solve problems in better ways. Winning has become losing integrity for market growth, short-term revenue, or makeshift gain. Winning has lopped off purpose for profit, market share, or votes.

When we focus on creating, our mindset shifts to collaboration, betterment, and the right mix of richness and purpose. Are you ready to start a revolution of creating well? Our purpose depends upon it. Our legacy requires it.

What promotes a creating well mindset? How can we make this shift stick?


Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Alli Polin says:

    Inspiring, Jon. Winning is really about creating. What are we doing that serves, inspires, grows and meaningfully touches the lives of others?

    I’m reminded of an old manager of mine; she was an experienced hire who did not thrive in our win at all costs org culture. She shaped me as a leader in the brief months we worked together. She told me my job was never to make her look good, it was to do great work. Her job as my leader was to clear the way and always put her team first. She epitomized winning well because it wasn’t all about her – it was always about us.



    • Jon Mertz says:


      Your story highlights what we need more of! The story exemplifies the spirit of a leader ready to solve problems and focus on the greater purpose. We need more people like this! The question you pose at the beginning of your comment is one we need to lead by, every day.

      Thank you,


  • Jon Mertz says:

    Samantha, Thank you for your perspective and adding your voice to creating well. A shift from winning to creating is a vital one… our relevance in the future may depend on it. So, as you point out, it begins with the BIG challenge of being the example. We need to gain momentum of people willing to create well instead of winning well. We need people to join in and set the leadership example of saying and doing things for a greater good than a self-centered motive. We need to vote for people who represent this shift. We need to support businesses that represent this shift. We need people to wake-up to this shift and jump in! Jon

  • Samantha says:

    As I was reading your post this morning from my cell phone, I was giving you a standing ovation in heart and spirit! The political climate has done more than leave a bad taste in the mouths of many and now more than ever, we need to encourage one another to focus on good old fashioned hard work, integrity, and serving more than just ourselves in this life.

    I loved the picture you painted of your father; a hard working farmer; a man who earned his living by the sweat of his brow and back-breaking real hard labor. I say this because living in the information age, we may often lose sight of what real hard work once was. And what that means today.

    You’ve asked some challenging questions when it comes to shifting the mindset from winning well to creating well. I wondered about this today as I worked with one of my clients. In the moments when I was left to myself to handle various tasks of the day, I thought about today’s politics and the mockery we’ve seen among presidential candidates… I also shifted my attention to what it’s like raising my own children and how issues like character and integrity translate here at home.

    The answers aren’t as black and white …nor easy as I would like them to be. However, to help launch a conversation that I hope others will engage in, I’ll try to distill a couple of my ideas down in such a way as to be useful.

    The short answer, yet one that doesn’t quite translate to a ready solution is naturally, one many of us already know and have heard:

    1. Be an example. ( Be the change we wish to see in the world. ~Gandhi)

    And yet, I found a flaw today in this…I’ve found this to be incomplete because being an example in this day and age doesn’t appear to be ENOUGH..if it’s not being REWARDED…. And we need to ask ourselves….what is being rewarded in this country? (Example…Trump) What gets rewarded, gets repeated.

    And then I once again brought this back to home. I have two daughters and has I’ve had to raise them myself since their father passed away in 2005, we naturally have had several opportunities to address issues regarding work ethics, integrity, etc. And even with integrity, that has been a challenge to instill deeply even into my own children. For now, it’s been limited to little things. (That I know of anyway.) And my daughters have both thought me ‘silly’ when I haven’t been willing to tell even ‘white lies’. They think I take honesty too far at times! (grins)

    As a mother…this bothers me. Not because my daughters think I’m silly…but because they still don’t understand WHY it’s so important…

    I had to think long and hard on this more than once over the years and I’ve only been able to come up with one conclusion.

    They haven’t seen my honesty VALUED. ‘Where has mother’s honesty gotten her over the years?’

    This IS part of the problem that we are facing in this country.

    2. We somehow have to figure out a way to convince people that having character and integrity is the right thing to do. That it is the BETTER way.

    Instead of what they are seeing and experiencing in this life…that it’s all about ‘winning’….

    We need to practice more than preach and we need to really step up on rewarding what we want to see more of.

    And QUIT rewarding what we don’t.

    Thanks for this excellent post Jon. I felt the pride in your words, especially as you shared about your father and the legacy he is leaving behind.


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