How Winning Works: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 27th, 2012 by bobmorris

How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth
Robyn Benincasa
Harlequin Press (2012)

“To strive, to seek, to find…and not to yield.” Tennyson’s Ulysses

Not everyone agrees with Robyn Benincasa about which are the “toughest teams on earth” to which the subtitle refers. My own candidates would include those who respond immediately, effectively, and courageously to natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and multi-state forest fires; also, those who work in children’s cancer wards. Until reading this book, I knew nothing about adventure racing and now appreciate how challenging it is to the teams that participate.

That said, Benincasa identifies and discusses eight “essential leadership lessons” — actually elements and components of effective leadership — and none is a head-snapper, nor does she make any such claim. They are accompanied by 75 tips, tools, and tactics for becoming “wildly successful.” Again, no news there. My guess (only a guess) is that those who find this book most valuable will be closely associated with athletes. Their coaches, of course, but also trainers and advisers on whom athletes also depend for guidance, supervision, and (yes) leadership. I also recommend this book to young people who aspire to compete in individual as well as team activities. Hopefully, their parents will also read it.

I think the greatest value of the book is derived by the personal, direct rapport with her reader that Benincasa establishes and then sustains throughout her narrative, one that seems to combine several features of two genres, memoir and manifesto. We learn a great deal about her life thus far as she shares an abundance of her personal experiences to illustrate key points. She also affirms, with passion and precision, certain core values that continue to guide and inform her decisions and commitments…and always will.

That said, keep in mind that she explains how winning works for her and those whom she has counseled. How it works for other people in other domains of competition may vary, sometimes significantly. However, the “8 essential leadership lessons” that Benincasa identifies and discusses are as good a set as any. The key, obviously, is how well they are applied.

These are among the passages that caught my eye:

o Planning (Pages 9-14)
o See Challenges Versus Roadblocks (52-54)
o The Hope of Success Versus the Fear of Failure (54-63)
o Acting Like a Team Is More Important Than Feeling Like a Team (94-96)
o Your Problems = My Problems (110-113)
o Hire the Inspired (130-133)
o Lead from the Back of the Pack (155-156)
o [When to/How to] Change Leadership Styles (165-171)

Readers will appreciate Benincasa’s skillful use of devices such as two end-of-chapter sections: subject specific mini-business case studies, and, “Synergy Starters” for the given subject such as “Total Commitment,” the first “Element.” Think of this book as a primer combined with a memoir rather than as an operations manual. In it, Robyn Benincasa generously shares everything she has learned about winning. There is a great deal of value for others to learn from her.

I also highly recommend that her book be read in tandem with John Wooden and Steve Jamison’s Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence. It is noteworthy that Coach Wooden’s U.C.L.A. men’s basketball teams won ten NCAA championships during the 12-year period prior to his retirement but he almost never – throughout his career — used the words “winning” and “losing,” even during casual conversations with family members and friends.

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