The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 22, 2019 1:00 am

Winning at the cost of your soul

Rachel Tobin-Smith

When do the ends justify the means?

It is basketball season in Indiana (and football season for my Buckeyes.) As I watch sports this fall, I find myself wondering about ends and means when it comes to winning. Currently as a coach of other managers and executives, I often work on tactics and results.

Many fans hope IU basketball goes to the Final Four. We cringe when a good player goes pro after their freshman year. What if IU struck a deal with the NBA's Pacers to send them every powerful recruit after their freshman year? But in exchange, the IU coach wanted one more thing. He asked the Pacers coach to publicly endorse a complaint to investigate the Purdue and Michigan State basketball coaches for recruiting violations. By doing this, the Pacers coach would immerse those teams and their coaches in scandal and sanctions and make it easier for IU to win the Big Ten championship.

Would the ends justify the means? Would this be cheating? Is this the way we want the Hoosiers to get to the Final Four? Or do we want them to win because they play great basketball?

What if you had a boss who told you constantly that he was the best, the absolute best ever? This boss never makes a mistake, and when something goes wrong, he blames someone else. This boss is never wrong and makes no mistakes. There is always a scapegoat for the mistake.

This same boss calls people names and uses disparaging nicknames in public to refer to those who disagree with him. His usual way to deal with customers or other companies is to discredit them.

Furthermore, the boss talks about conspiracies by competitors to destroy him. He says everyone secretly is plotting to get rid of him because he is the best. Even allies are called names and belittled by this boss. You as an employee must work in this environment. The boss says this is the way to win. He employs these tactics to win.

How important is it to “win at all costs”?

To what extent will Americans justify the means that are being used by the current administration in Washington to “make wins” for their agenda?

Do we want our favorite college sports teams to win by striking deals that disparage the other team, or do we want them to win because they have honed their skills and the quality of their players?

As the former CEO of an organization with more than 200 employees, I can tell you the boss' behaviors mentioned above are not conducive to a positive work environment. I know few leaders who espouse this kind of behavior. I have never seen these methods taught or endorsed in any leadership books. In fact, the opposite is true: these behaviors are examples of poor leadership. The person who uses these means might accomplish his objectives, but his tactics ruin the success.

Some people say, “We wanted someone to shake up Washington” or “We wanted a businessman to get things done.” I hear statements such as, “This is just the way it is done in New York.” However, these are not good leadership practices. In fact, most employees could not get away with these actions unless they owned the company.

As an avid Buckeye fan, I want my team to win because they have dominated the other team with their skills and game plan. You want to work for an organization that succeeds because of a culture of fairness and excellence.

To me, winning at any cost is a hollow victory. I believe that winning as a result of using abhorrent behavior and making deals is really losing the war. You may have won the battle but you have lost your soul. I sure hope Americans do not lose their soul.

Rachel Tobin-Smith, the former CEO of SCAN, Inc., is a coach and consultant to nonprofit leaders and organizations.

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