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Winning in the Workplace

Failed endeavors in acquisition negotiations in the workplace can happen due to an emotional state called competitive arousal. Competitive arousal means that executives in high stakes situations become overtaken by competition causing them to make rash decisions, miscalculations and expensive errors. Rivalry, time pressure and being in the spotlight are the main factors that cause failure due to competitive arousal.

In a twist, I want to show you why in most situations, winning is a good thing. Competitive

arousal is a benefit. There are few exceptions to this rule – immaturity, lack of experience and no accountability. These exceptions can leave organizations vulnerable to the whims of competitive arousal in their leader that can cost them deeply.

Benefits of Competitive Arousal

Traditional winning, as the article points out, is a zero sum game. There is always a winner and always a loser. Whoever wins does not lose. Whoever loses does not win. What if winning were reframed and called overcoming? Overcoming illuminates something deeper in our psyche related to hope, resilience and persistence. If a person overcomes cancer, don’t they win? But overcoming cancer does not mean someone else loses. If we pull out the concept of winning and reframe it as overcoming we can change the game from zero sum to collective winning.

If achieving freedom and standing for liberty wasn’t also about winning, how do people wage and win wars or stage revolts? Overcoming creates an all-consuming drive deep within each person that can multiple and be felt by others. It is led or spread by one but becomes for many. It demands obsession (Grover, 2021). Obsession creates stubbornness which leads to a persistence to change things that need to be changed.

Overcoming is the ultimate fuel for activism, social justice and community engagement -and can help a workplace thrive. Overcoming something can be uncomfortable. No one wants to be part of a losing team or organization. Fame driven to win, often loses, but making decisions for the greater good of the community can lose a deal and still win. Is it the world’s view of success or how we define it? Is it striving for perfection or excellence? It’s how an organization values winning and how they define it that ensures collective achievement.


The instant there is a rival then there is a need to win. Having a rival sets up a zero sum game. In community engagement, there can be winning without losing. The Wichita, KS business, civic and non-profit communities came together approximately 6 years ago in a coalition against homelessness. The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition (MHSA) has worked tirelessly since then in collaboration to win the battle against homelessness in the community. The rival is degradation of our downtown area, meth abuse, increased mental health issues in youth and homelessness. In working to overcome the battle, there has been cooperative collective winning by all those who have volunteered and ultimately winning in the lives of the homeless. It is not a

zero sum game. Overcoming in community engagement creates unity, persistence and belonging.

People like to make a difference and see their work produce progress and change. Overcoming accomplishes that. Competitive arousal can drive necessary collective action when aimed at a common enemy (a.k.a. a rival) and contribute to flow states (Robinson & Renshaw, 2022). When communities are empowered through engaged scholarship, they have more power to overcome. This power and engagement set up the perfect situation for flow states. In the MHSA example, the collaborative mindsets and collective engagement set up opportunities that had never happened before. The success has come out of the extremely positive collective environment that

lends its success to flow.

Time Pressure

Pressure like in an auction, increase pressure to win in the bidding. Time pressure also increases the need to engage. When the businesses of downtown Wichita engaged with the county and non-profit organizations to bring to light the homelessness issue, there was pressure. The issue had escalated to negatively impact businesses and the amount of shelters and rehabilitation facilities had no more space. The time pressure created and fueled the collaboration, passion and actions that have followed since. Without a near failure affecting businesses, would there have been as much buy in or participation?

Overcoming creates mutual goals and motivations for teams to mobilize in unity. For high stakes achievement and success, winning drives people through the process. The businesses were highly motivated to act and wouldn’t settle for anything less than success for all involved. The highly successful businesses had this winning mindset and applied that pressure to the community engagement around homelessness.

Overcoming in the context of collective action fuels inspiration for teams and company cultures. Overcoming is part of vision casting that is necessary for galvanizing teams, innovation and creating movement in industries. Most everyone who becomes a leader is a competitor and understands winning. Fame is not winning. Individualism can drive winning for just me, not the company. As I pointed out before, leaders who get caught up in individualistic winning lack the maturity, accountability and collective mindset to look at winning for all. For the MHSA coalition in Wichita, winning was for all. Non-profits shared resources, gaps were identified and the county stepped in to fill those gaps. Businesses donated funds to fuel progress. People from the margins experiencing homelessness were consulted to identify true needs.


The spotlight of decisions adds to the time pressure. An audience watching devalues decision making for the leaders they studied. Winning became the sole focus of the actions and choices seen by the leaders. Instead of looking at a traditional auction where one person wins the item and everyone else loses, there are alternative auction practices.

Envision in Wichita, KS has an annual fundraising gala for their programs that help visually impaired and blind kids and adults learn to cope with the disability and have jobs. Envision does not do auctions after dinner for items to raise money. A few years ago, Michael Monteferrante, the CEO, changed the auction mentality to a win-win. It is called a paddle raise, not an auction. The paddle raise is done by monetary amounts only. A number like $10,000 appears onto the screen in the room and the emcee encourages all to consider this amount. The number on the screen drops to $5000 and the process continues. The final amount is $100 and an item is donated for the person who wins the last paddle raise. The audience erupts with spotlight competitive arousal to help the organization win.

Using the effects of spotlight and pressure to create collective overcoming for the community drives this fundraiser to success. Stories throughout the evening of people telling how the organization has helped them overcome their handicap cascade onto the audience, making them a part of that overcoming.

Leaderful moments or leading from anywhere as a focus of Leadership-as-Practice means that one person’s winning mindset can erupt and spread into others, shifting motivation for a community as a whole (Raelin, 2011). Because our brains work in co-regulation with other brains around us, by mirroring movements in a dance of leader follower, follower to leader. Our nervous systems are socially dependent which is the momentum affect that takes winning and spreads it (Barrett, 2020).

Overcoming is not a moment by moment issue only present in one high stakes decision, but a way of life driven by internal factors that make winning a way of life. Trained high achievers are in competitive mode all the time and see the mindset of winning as a driver for resilience, discipline and perseverance. They surround themselves with more people driven to a relentless pursuit of shared success, people who travel at the same speed for greater good (Gotian, 2022) (Grover, 2013).

A winning mindset creates factors in an individual that makes them immune to competitive arousal that is detrimental to decision making. The negative side of winning in competitive arousal is a win, lose or a zero sum game. This type of winning creates losers. The type of winning I’m describing creates winners out of losers. Using a winning mindset through community engagement is a win-win. There are no losers, only more winners. For leaders that engage in winning, collectivism multiplies via resonance into movement through organizations (Robinson & Renshaw, 2022).


Overcoming in the community or workplace isn’t just about coming out on top or ahead; it’s about inspiring a collective action toward achieving a common goal and doing so in a way that is ethical, inclusive and sustainable for all in the community. When properly harnessed, a winning mindset can be a leader’s most powerful tool for fostering community and healthy culture. The victory must enrich the community as a whole, which is done through an enlightened, experienced and trained leader. Understanding the impact of a "winning" mindset on employee engagement can provide valuable insights for leadership practices and decision-making.


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