“Not every “winner” is a good fit for your team, look for learners.”

Some years ago IBM had a junior executive that made a tactical error costing the company nine million dollars. The following week the young man was called to the CEO’s office thinking he would be fired. Instead, the Chairman began discussing plans for a new project which he wanted the young executive to direct.

Feeling uncomfortable the young man interrupted the Chairman, “Excuse me sir you know I just cost the company nine million dollars so why are you putting me in charge? I thought I came here today to be fired.” The Chairman responded, “I’ve just invested nine million dollars educating you, you’re now one of my most valuable assets.”

Great leaders constantly look for winners among the learners. Poor leaders throw away what they perceive as losers looking for a winner. Great leaders see conflict and mistakes as possibilities to learn and develop future leaders. Poor leaders only see them as problems to solve and in doing so lose a lot of good people.

Your attitude colors your thoughts and your leadership approach. Most young, immature and inexperienced leaders are unaware of how their negative thoughts and actions shape their world view and influence their teams’ attitude and success.

There are two dramatically contrasting attitudes that can shape your leadership, perfection or discovery. Perfection says, “Is this good enough?” It’s usually not. Discovery says, “What’s good here?” How can we do it better?”

The search for perfection sets up winners and losers. The conversation usually involves questions and issues such as who is right and who is wrong. Why mistakes are unacceptable.

Judgmental and non-negotiable attitudes prevail. Everyone is playing the blame game instead of accepting responsibility. The willingness to take risks and innovate is non-existent and the steam is gone from any self-esteem that may be left.

On the other-hand, the process of discovery creates a culture of winners and learners. There are no “failures,” only learning opportunities for people who won’t quit. Self-esteem and value always stay elevated in an atmosphere of hope and discovery.

Mistakes need corrected and errors avoided, but not at the expense of stifling peoples’ creative juices and innovative spirit. Great leaders never throw caution to the wind, but neither do they discourage the willingness to step into the unknown and find a new path. If they do, they can kiss their most gifted, motivated and profitable team members good-bye.

Life is not about winning and losing, it’s about what you learn when you win, or when you lose. The essence of great leadership is more than picking winners and losers. Any Leadership 101 graduate can do that. The essence of great leadership is finding winners among the learners.

How many “learners” have you found lately? Are you even looking? Don’t let ego-driven winners distract you from finding a great learner.