The Will to Win

Based on “How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation” by Rob Jolles (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013).

By Rob Jolles

While I was growing up, I was a fan of the late Vince Lombardi. Not only was he one of the greatest coaches ever, but he also finished his career with my Washington Redskins. He is the man who is forever linked to the following words:“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

There is an irony to this: Lombardi isn’t the one who came up with that quote, nor did he mean it when he said it. For the record, the quote actually was attributed to Henry “Red” Sanders, the football coach for the UCLA Bruins in 1950. In 1959, Lombardi used the line to open the Packers training camp. According to the late James Michener’s “Sports in America,” Lombardi claimed to have been misquoted. What he intended to say was this: “Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.”

That certainly changes the intent of that quote, doesn’t it? It also gives you a little more insight into the nature of Lombardi. Look at that quote again. Lombardi, one of the most competitive and successful coaches in professional sports history, was really telling us something else: He was saying, “Effort is what ultimately defines success.” This is an important distinction because I think we often define our success by counting our victories.

Those who know me well consider me to be an intense person, both inside and out. You may be surprised to know, however, that throughout my professional career, my reaction to either winning or losing has never been that different. As a young salesman, when I made a nice sale, I would celebrate with a bag of barbecue potato chips. That bag of chips symbolized victory.

But that wasn’t the only time I rewarded myself with that bag of chips. When I worked hard on a sale by taking no shortcuts, by sticking to my process, and by giving it my all, I’d eat those chips even if I didn’t make the sale. It was a struggle at first because I never wanted to get into a habit of rewarding failure. But I wasn’t rewarding failure; I was rewarding effort. To this day, I can forgive a professional loss, but what I can’t forgive is a loss knowing I didn’t do all I could to be successful.

We learned this as children and were allowed to define success by our effort and our will to win. Much like Lombardi’s quote that took on a life of its own, so has the flawed concept that success should be defined solely by winning. Is it any wonder that so many people struggle in life with depression and the fear of failure? Personally, I believe this is a direct result of people elevating the act of winning to a life-and-death equation.

North Carolina’s Dean Smith, one of the most successful college basketball coaches in the history of the sport (coming from a Maryland Terrapin alumni, that’s not easy for me to admit), said it best when he provided us with this thought: “If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

Let’s pay tribute to Vince Lombardi, and remember him for his real message. If we do, we can set goals and achieve results that are 100 percent controlled by our effort . . . just as we did when we were children. Ithink we would all be a lot happier with ourselves if we did this—don’t you?

Based on “How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation” by Rob Jolles. Reprinted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA. Copyright © 2013. For more information, visit or call 800.929.2929

Rob Jolles is president of Training Consulting Corporation and was a record-setting salesman and sales trainer for New York Life and Xerox. He presents annually to thousands of people at Fortune 500 companies, as well as to doctors, lawyers, parent groups, and more. He is the author of “Customer-Centered Selling,” “How to Run Seminars and Workshops,” “Mental Agility,” “The Way of the Road Warrior,” and “How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation.”

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