The mission, strategy and legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United can be summed up in one word: win! For him losing was like poison; he knew it existed but he never swallowed it. That is why he said that he never lost a game with Manchester United but that sometimes ‘they ran out of time’. It wasn’t always attractive but it was effective. It was effective because the ultimate purpose of the game was not to entertain nor to perform nor to excel but to win. So what does it take to unlock a winning mentality in leadership?
The clue lies in the colour of winning – red. Manchester United’s home kit is red. The cover of our book, Challenging Coaching, is red. Traffic lights go red when you need to stop. People go red when they get angry. You can’t ignore red and you can’t ignore winners. Red is also the colour of a style of leadership. The Insights leadership tool classifies different types of leadership energy as red, blue, green and yellow. Each energy plays a unique, important role and every leader has innate preferences and blind spots. The red leadership energy is described as ‘fiery’. In leadership terms red stands for ruthless, edgy and dangerous.
Red is a state of mind. Winners access this state of mind more often than others. Yet it is available to all of us. Just because your insights leadership preference might be yellow/blue that doesn’t mean you can’t access a red state of mind. For example, we all get angry occasionally but some people get angry more quickly and in more circumstances than others. You could say they are more practised at accessing the angry state of mind so it seems to come more naturally to them. Like winning, it has become a habit for them to get angry and that will be effective in some situations and not in others.
So here’s the nub of it. How can you and your team access the winning state of mind? How can you go red (ruthless, edgy, dangerous) when you need to? How can you make a habit out of winning? The simple answer is to practise. I don’t mean to practise winning, I mean to practise accessing a winning state of mind; practise going red. And the simplest way of doing this is to remember when you have experienced it before. Remember when you had the feeling of winning. Remember when you were ruthless, edgy and dangerous. When you re-live those moments in vivid detail it will change your state of mind. Guaranteed. You will go red. Here’s a few questions to help you remember:-
– what is the greatest victory you can remember being part of?
– what was the exact moment when you knew you had won?
– how did you feel in that moment?
– what sights did you see, what noises and words did you hear in that moment?
– what else can you remember about that precise moment?
– what was red about that moment (ruthless, edgy, dangerous)?
– how did your own red energy help to create that moment?
Our imaginations are powerful and our sub-conscious minds do not know the difference between fact and fiction. So when you remember the red from the past you can’t help but go a little redder in the present. When you remember winning in the past you bring winning a little closer in the present. And just as you close out this exercise, you capture the moment by looking around you and spotting the first bit of red you see. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it is very, very red. You tag your red state of mind to that red object such that whenever you think of that object again in the future it brings with it your red state of mind. Because that’s how our minds work; by association. Winning. Red. Habit.