Life is a Revolution: Losing is Not an Option for a High Performance Team, It is a Requirement

Life is a Revolution: Losing is Not an Option for a High Performance Team, It is a Requirement
By: Chris Mahlmann Last Updated: February 25, 2013

From my perch at a table in Industrial Revolution I bring you my second installment of the Life is a Revolution series. Those of us that own or run a small business or high performance team of any kind, particularly the most competitive or driven among us, often times might believe that failure is not an option, and that desire to win every time is what drives our thinking. Yes it is true that this is much more of an all or nothing kind of career choice that we have chosen, we are reminded every day how important it is to fail, early and often, if we are to continue to win as a team.

Do you have to win 100% of the time? No, but you need to want to win with every fiber in your body, while understanding that if you are not losing, you likely aren't pushing yourself to the limits that can break through the failure that we all want to avoid. Leading anything is a competitive function, after all. We enlist to lead a group of people in our business, team, school, or cause and take on the role of defining how high we are going to soar and how hard and how long we are going to work to get there. We believe that we can fly that high when others do not, and we fake our way through it when you hit the inevitable challenges that lead most to choose not to be the leader in the first place.

So we preach, prod, practice, and dream of the goal of winning every game. We take the losses very hard, quickly, and indelibly. And then we look for the next opportunity to push, take the chance on something even harder, and risk the chance of losing again; twice as determined each time to not fail. Whether you are leading a basketball team, church community, start up tech company, are in your third business, fourth career choice, or a community organization trying to make an impact, you are playing to win.

One of my early and more notorious failures happened in 2009, just a few months after we launched, when I naively walked up to Jeff Samardzija during warm ups prior to his major league debut for the Cubs in 2009 at WrigleyField and tried to interview him for this little start up website nobody had ever heard of called ValpoLife. Brett Fuller quickly verbally slapped me upside the head for the bonehead move of talking to a starting pitcher prior to a game, after Jeff appropriately scowled at me with a look of, "who is this goofball?"

It taught me that you need to be better educationally prepared and reminded me to listen to your staff more often, particularly when they know 1,000 percent more than you about something. Nothing kept me from taking my lumps for 30 seconds and then walking up to the General Manager to ask him about Jeff's upcoming start though.

Jump ahead to winter of 2010 and Governor Mitch Daniels is at Valpo High School for a basketball game. As a relentless driver of others to be an opportunistic story teller, capitalizing on getting the shot, interview, introduction, or exposure when the situation presents itself, I had the opportunity to show 'em all how it's done with Mitch in the house. I was quick to take a great shot of Mitch with his V green hat on early enough in the game to get that in the bank.

Then came the chance during a timeout to walk up to him with my video camera, say hello, and ask him for a layup "I love the Vikings and Valpo" kind of clip, just like I preach to my team to never miss. I hesitated, waiting until the "next" chance, then time got away, Mitch took off, and the coulda, woulda, shouldas all jabbed at me as I blew it completely. I bounced back by calling the Governor's office and arranging for Mitch to visit our "studios" (that meant curtains and a video camera at the time) on an upcoming visit, and got him to give me an early "announcement".

A few years later, we had a more epic fail, when I naively thought if you put a bunch of people onto a gym floor at Valpo High School, throw in a handful of your energetic staff, a hundred green masks, on Senior Night, and the soundtrack to Harlem Shuffle begins to play, they will magically start dancing in an orchestrated fashion like all those "impromptu" flash mobs that you see on YouTube. Our participation in ValpoLife night was incredible and managed beautifully by our team of people at the table in the lobby, interacting with the students, making announcements, throwing out t-shirts, handing out masks, taking pictures, and having loads of fun with the fans in the process. Wanting to whip that whole frenzy of good into the viral video mania of the Harlem Shake trend that was peaking on social networks, I thought we had it all ready to go. The game ended with a dominating performance by Valpo to beat Merrillville, everyone was at an emotional high, we had everybody in position, 100 fans spilled onto the floor, we had the cameras all ready to roll, and BAM!

Most people huddled together, one guy did some sweet moves, our girls jumped up and down and egged others on to dance, and you could hear the sound of Life crash on the floor as people shuffled around and thought this was lame. My heart sank; I raced through all the thoughts of how hard we had worked and how close we had come, how cool it would have been if it worked, and it hit me hard upside the head just as it did with Jeff and Mitch - "you blew it". This time it was my lack of planning and overly optimistic mindset. I set up not only myself, but our team to fail as well; naively thinking that if you play it they will dance so to speak. We might be the only organization around the globe that has ever failed at making a Harlem Shake video, as people locally like VU, Memorial Elementary school, and Michigan City students have all done great jobs.

These three of the more lighthearted examples are joined by hundreds of others that I have experienced leading our team of people. Times where my judgment, communication, plan, or idea was not enough, too much, or just goofy once the hard reality of losing sunk in. As a firm believer in the end result being the ultimate judge of one's performance, every one of them is digested by me as a personal miss or a loss in the bottom line column.

Each time there is a moment, hour, or a day where you wonder did we push too hard, did we reach too far, or should I pull back a bit the next time? If your team is going to regularly win, those have to be moments, hours, or a day max that you let the doubt overtake your confidence, before you recognize it is worth going back at it harder than ever the next time.

We tell the stories of people that battle knee surgery, loss of a loved one, cancer, abuse, poverty, and many other real forms of despair. People that suffer true loss, endure actual pain, and get right back up again and believe that the next time will be better, the ongoing commitment is worth it, and that ultimately they will win. They make it incredibly easy to digest our simple failures and move on, knowing that what may seem like a crushing blow to us at the time, are merely blips on the graph of our future.

Take the misses hard, learn from every one of them, and then put your big boy or girl pants on and keep shooting. Losing is not an option for a high performance team. It is a requirement. Life is a Revolution.

Click here to read the first installment of the Life is a Revolution Series!