It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about always winning! This is what a winning mindset is all about. And if we are going to be ruthlessly honest with each other, we need that kind of mindset, whether in sports, business or life. Nobody is going to give you a participation trophy in real life. And if we don’t value winning, we’re keeping ourselves from to the best version of ourselves. How do we embody this winning mindset, then? Join in as Kofi Nartey discusses this hot topic with his better half Mimi Nartey.
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It’s About Always Winning! With Mimi Nartey
3 Ways To Having A Winning Mindset
I’m super excited to talk about something that gets talked about a lot in our society and that’s winning or losing or this idea of participation awards and what I call BS on that. This episode is called It’s Not About Winning or Losing, It’s About Always Winning. I have my special guest/permanent guest. I put a ring on it and I’m stuck with my lifetime guest who’s going to be joining me on quite a bit of this show.
It’s great to have another great mind at the table to bounce these ideas off of, specifically in this situation. I’ve got my wife here, Dr. Mimi Nartey. She’s also a former World Cup athlete and a former silver medalist in the African Cup of Nations. She gets it and will bring all of that knowledge and ability to the world of even business consulting. She’s the CEO whisperer in my life. Welcome back.
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be on, especially to talk about this. One thing about us is we both share a passion for winning. That’s for sure.
We both have that mama mentality as well. Where did this idea even start? Bear with us. We’re going to race through a lot of great concepts and leave you with at least three ways to have a winning mindset. We had different approaches to this so you might even get six ways to have a winning mindset but this was born out of this whole idea of participation awards. In 2022, our 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son both played sports. The note to self that made me say, “I’m going to do an episode on this,” is my high school daughter. They had a meeting at the school with the athletic director. He was standing there and said, “It’s not about wins or losses. It’s about building a positive culture.” At that moment, my gut yelled BS.
We both looked at each other and we were like, “What?”
What did your gut say at that moment?
It’s pretty much the same thing. I understand where some of this is coming from. Especially for young players, we want to look at prioritizing development. Even as business leaders, we are trying to develop ourselves but I don’t think that we have to shy away from the framework of winning as we pursue that development because there are a lot of benefits that come from the Pursuit of the W.
I want to touch on both what it means as it relates to sports and business, even a few bullet points and then we’re going to finish with those ways to have a winning mindset. The whole concept was born out of sports and this idea of participation awards. My only caveat for this is the idea of it’s always about winning. It kicks in at the competitive level. When you’re a child or a toddler learning the sport, participation is fine.
Parents like us are keeping score on the sideline but you don’t even keep score. If the kids don’t keep score, it’s fine. Everybody gets a medal so you feel good about it. To be honest, even if everybody gets a medal, it lends itself to the argument that we’re ultimately going to make that winning means something. It’s because, at a later stage, when it does get competitive, you only get the medal when you win. You’ve seen some of this whole participation thing. What is your disclaimer for this?
The disclaimer piggybacks on what you’re talking about that there is a certain stage when someone is being introduced to something where we’re trying to give a very foundational basis. We’re not going to emphasize winning or losing as much but still, the object of the game is to win. I feel like whenever the context is there’s a winner and a loser, winning matters.
If you’re not the winner, then you’re what?
You’re the loser. One more little frame for the disclaimer. On the corporate side, people have also been trying to implement and pull this into business because they’re trying to pit cooperation against a winning mentality. These are not the right things.
As we talk about sports and this idea of participating, creating a culture and what it’s about, the challenge that a lot of these athletic directors and coaches have is they’re not just being judged on their wins and losses. They are being judged on culture and trying to have what I call a great podium to speak on. When I was at Cal and played football at Berkeley, we had three different head coaches. We had one coach who had come off a national championship. We had Steve Mariucci who was there for one year, then got picked up by the Niners, then we had our third coach, I won’t name, who was great at the podium but not great as a head coach. This whole idea of building a positive culture is about keeping your job at the podium.
It’s not about what’s ultimately in the interest of the players and even that, keeping your job at the podium is a short-term view because if you want to build the right and sustainable culture, it has to be a culture built on a winning mindset. Winning matters because having that winning mindset affects how you prepare, perform and self-evaluate host game time.If you want to really build the right culture, a sustainable culture, it has to be a culture built on a winning mindset. Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, I feel like it didn’t make him noble. Coaches and athletic directors, in general, don’t make them any noble or you’re on some higher plane to say it’s not about winning. It’s an oversimplified podium talk. I don’t know if this is the reason why but within a couple of months later, that athletic director was gone. It was interesting too because we had all of the different coaches in the room for the different sports. The athletic director kicked off the event and then they opened it up for you to go meet the other coaches. We have soccer coaches and there were track coaches that we were interested in speaking with. One of the first things they said was, “For us, it’s about winning.”
It’s going to affect the mindset that the players come to that sport with. It’s setting the expectations so that you can push yourself further in your preparation time so that I can ask more of you in real-time in the game because this is what we’re pursuing. In post-game, whether we did win or lose, because the objective was winning, we have something to evaluate.
Even as we start at that early age and transition into the competitive level, it does need to be a healthy environment but healthy doesn’t mean it’s not competitive. It becomes a healthy competition and some of the greatest takeaways in sports. I met with 30 of the Arizona Cardinals. They flew me out to Phoenix and I had a great session with them. Half of it is about real estate but the other half is about life and transferable skills. Some of the skills you take away from sports are resiliency, dealing with challenges, heartache, loss and winning.
One of the big benefits of winning is that it can show you what’s possible. That’s been my experience as an athlete, having played at the Division one college level, national team level and professionally. There have been moments where I have stretched myself and I’ve seen us as a team stretch ourselves further than what we ever believed, particularly we’re representing the Women’s National Team of Ghana. I have a TEDx Talk where I talk about the impact of soccer on the lives of these women and how it’s such an empowerment vehicle to be able to have access to sports. A big part of that is because there’s the opportunity for them to show themselves that they are winners in a literal and metaphorical sense. I talk a great deal about that in that.One of the big benefits of winning is that it shows you what's possible. Click To Tweet
What’s cool is that once you’ve had that experience and feeling, it can never be taken away from you. When you have those moments of victory in sports, even a game-winning shot and scoring a goal in a loss, it’s a personal win for you. You never even forget the goals and the touchdowns you scored and the three-pointers you hit. I was in fifth grade and had the kickball kick to win the game. It was a walk-off homer kickball kick. I’ll never forget the feeling it gave me.
On the flip side of this, what’s also important is I feel that losing may be the only path to authentic self-acceptance but only if you are trying to win. Losing is probably one of the only paths to authentic self-acceptance but only in a situation where you are trying to win. If you were not able to win at that moment, you have to deal with that loss, look at yourself in the mirror, accept yourself and pick yourself back up. That is a level of self-acceptance. It comes through the process of attempting the win and falling short.
That’s deep because it’s easy to accept a winner. It’s harder to accept a loss and “a loser.” You still remember how you were wired. You also can even reference the work you put in, which brings me to another point as it relates to sports. If we’re not trying to win, then what are we practicing for, especially at the competitive level? When the coaches are saying, “We can do this better. You should turn this way and you need to do this,” what is that for? It’s for a specific outcome. What’s that outcome? It’s winning.If we're not trying to win, then what the heck are we practicing for? Click To Tweet
I’ve also spent a lot of years, probably about 25 years, as a competitive youth soccer coach. Not only have I experienced this on the player side but I’ve also experienced this on the coaching side. Not to toot my own horn but I’ve only had one losing season as a coach ever and that was the year of COVID. We had been promoted to a new league because we had won our previous league. We were all set back and I had these eleven-year-old girls that were going through this global pandemic.
As we know, children bore the brunt of this. It was a very tough season because we suffered loss after loss. It was difficult to train and for us to find a rhythm but once we started winning again, the wins were what indicated that we had weathered this storm. That was our indicator that we were back. We have survived this and this chapter has closed. We are moving back into a new chapter for ourselves.
That term resiliency comes up there. You are your adjectives, not your nouns. It’s your adjectives that you bring to everything you’re doing. Being resilient is an adjective. If you can bring that not only to sports but to life, it’s a life tool that will take you places because life is not easy. Even every mogul that we know that we read about, if you read their autobiographies and get the truth, they’re on such a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures and wins and losses. We see them at the pinnacle of where they are not knowing that the journey was full of that. Resiliency is something that you can even learn from sports to carry you into those business pursuits.
How do you know that you’ve been resilient? Ultimately, there has to be an external objective evaluation tool measure. It’s back when you are able to find the way to win. That’s resilience.
Even that loss, it’s all about getting better. If you think about the athletes that lose a championship game, they stay on the field to see the other teams celebrate. I love those moments because they want to remember that feeling and use it as motivation. I always say, “Progress doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings.” It’s about how you manage the feelings. Sometimes, it’s nice to own the challenging feeling, own the negative feeling and remember what that feeling’s like so that you can stand on that feeling and be motivated by that feeling to do better, tweak the things you need, improve the ways you need to improve and not have that feeling again.
Emotions are important tools for us if we know how to leverage them appropriately.
Even simply stated as a full mogul philosophy. If we don’t value winning, we’re cheating ourselves and pushing ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. Only through valuing winning that you say, “How do I win? How do I maximize, unlock and unleash my potential to get me to the place where I’m positioned for success?”
It’s funny that you say that because I was thinking about it on the way here. I don’t think I do anything without defining what the win is for me. Even simple things seem almost irrelevant but that’s the way that you get that sense of empowerment and satisfaction. You’re able to glean information from what you’re experiencing to move forward and leverage it into other things.
This made me think about a couple of 30,000-foot philosophical ideas I want to share. I want to jump into the business side. One of the ideas was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is tied to the hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization is at the highest part of the pyramid. It refers to self-actualization as the desire to be the best one can be. As part of your hierarchy of needs as a human, there’s a desire to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
It’s even built-in to full mogul, winning and pursuing winning because the best version of yourself isn’t preparing to lose. It’s preparing to win. Even if you don’t win, it’s the preparation that has pushed you to your highest level of potential. The loss gives you things to take away and learn from but that makes you feel good knowing that you left it all on the field.
When you’re saying that, people are trying to shift towards being process-oriented but it’s the process towards winning.
Some people have heard the story of Hernán Cortéz of Spain. In early 1500, they went to war and burned their boats so there was no way to go back, even if we go back further to 300 or 400 BC. There was the book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. He introduced the idea of burning the boats and bridges, supporting the arguments that soldiers without the option of taking flight are more likely to prevail over their objective. When we look at winning and if we are going into winning saying, “It’s not about whether we win or lose. It’s about the culture of the team and this, that and the other,” you’ve already introduced the concept that losing is okay. You’re not fighting to be your best at that moment because you’ve already been given a way out. I don’t like that.
I agree with you. It is a matter of having the courage to be vulnerable and articulate that you desire to win. You stand behind that whether you win or lose. It’s character-building.
I promise we’re going to jump into the business side of things but I wanted to touch on this idea of the win versus the spin, where we focus on the actual win versus using that spin language to cover up or make a loss okay like, “It’s okay.” There are teachable and coachable moments but we have to embrace and own the outcomes that have come from even a loss. By owning that is the only way you can control it to get better. It’s the accountability and responsibility piece for your actions.
Sometimes in competitions, you are outmatched objectively. Every game can be deconstructed into moments of equality or even dominance. Your genius comes in the decisions that shift the momentum towards those exceptional moments and opportunities. This is the same in business in life. I know you’re saying you want to transition but it’s not about the spin to your point. There are times when you are legitimately outmatched. Can you do the critical analysis to find those moments that you can exploit to find victory?
Winning in sports is what we’ve touched on. This is the participation award version for business. Let’s make it a win-win for both sides. It’s podium talk in business. You go into negotiations with everything, whether you own your business or you’re in sales or not. There are so many moments in business that are actual negotiations and there are negotiations where someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.
Someone is going to feel good about it and not so good about it. Both sides will feel okay about it. There’s some version of that. That’s happening whether you are trying to get a job, negotiating for a new position, a new salary or in a group setting for your thoughts to be heard. All of these things are small wins or small losses. Business fully has to integrate this concept of winning or losing.
What you’ve said ties back to what I was saying that whenever there’s a context, a clear winner or loser and it’s going up against someone else for a specific contract, a grant or whatever it is that you’re doing, there’s going to be the one person who is awarded that thing. There will be the rest of the people who were not awarded so it is a competitive context in all different realms of business. You can find those moments where it’s only going to one person. Nobody is going to give you a participation award and you’re not going to be able to pay your bills with that participation trophy. It does boil down to being able to leverage a winning mindset in those situations.
You hear this idea of winning at all costs. It’s not about winning at all costs. It is about winning with integrity and ethics. The way that you do that is, at least to me personally, I put pressure on myself to win in those moments and win with ethics and integrity. The pressure causes me to prepare better for the meeting, the conversation and the negotiation I’m going into. What does that look like in terms of tangible takeaways? I’m going to run my numbers 2 or 3 times and know those numbers.It's not about winning at all costs. It is about winning with integrity and with ethics. Click To Tweet
I’m going to run my market comp as it comes to real estate. I’m going to know what’s sold and what hasn’t sold. If it’s about inspections and negotiating on that, I’m going to know the pricing around the things I’m negotiating. I’m going to try to figure out the desired outcome of the person I’m talking to because if I can speak to the desired outcome, that’s going to get me closer to getting to the desired outcome for me and my clients. It’s that pressure to win that helps me to prepare to have a better chance of “winning.”
Leverage all of the different resources that are available to you at your disposal because that’s also what it takes in a moment of competition. It’s that creative leveraging of resources that comes from attempting to win.
My goal in this “let’s make it a win-win” is that my win is in all caps and the other side’s win is in lower caps. I don’t want them to feel bad but I want to win. I want to know that at the end of the day, we did a little bit better and I did a little bit better for my clients. That cap-out, meet in the middle, compromise. I’d rather meet a little bit closer to my side than the actual middle.
It’s more of a win-learn. You win. They learn.
No matter what, one person is truly going to prevail. Let’s look at some ways to have a winning mindset. If there’s anything that you wanted to share that we’ve missed, let’s throw it in here at this time as well. Let’s have a fast-paced strategy for having a winning mindset.
Let’s jump into the winning mindset. The number one thing for me in terms of a winning mindset is ruthless optimism. I talk about this all the time because I feel like this is my core value. My particular superpower is ruthless optimism. You know how much I love that quote from Michael Jordan, “I never lost a game. I only ran out of time.” To me, that is the manifestation of ruthless optimism. It means that you feel that no matter what, you would be able to creatively find a way to persevere in all circumstances. I do think that it starts with that faith and optimism to have a winning mindset.
I’ll give you the first one from my list. Mine are all Mamba mentality and also that Jordan mentality, which is, “Play to win and not to win friends.” To your point and we have some overlapping thoughts here, it affects how you prepare, how you’re performing and your ability to tweak, make changes and self-evaluate what you’re doing. When you look at Kobe Bryants of the world and the Michael Jordans of the world who have led others to championships and victory, it’s not a pretty process. It’s not a process of making friends. On the other side of it, you have champions and no one is going to complain about wearing that championship ring, let alone wearing it six times in Michael Jordan’s case. Give me another one.
The other piece of a winning mindset is self-belief. Connecting it back to my experience with these African women I’ve developed this sisterhood and bond with, the circumstances of their lives were extremely challenging. That inner feeling of self-belief was amazing. The biggest gift that they gave me was for me to be able to witness and watch the circumstances that they came from to come into a World Cup and believe that you can take over the world. Literally or metaphorically, you can take over the world from wherever you come from. That’s why I love the World Cup and seeing all of these teams from all these different places. The passion that they play with is about self-belief.
You can’t make this stuff up but mine overlaps with yours. I put some notes together. You put some notes together independently. I told you don’t look at my notes even if I leave them out. I didn’t look at your notes but it ties into that feeling of self-belief and my number two, which is dominating, don’t play Kate. It’s not about dominating even your opponent. It’s about dominating your potential. That means realizing your potential and your opponent happens to be in the way. Sorry for you but this is my potential running your ass over. This is where we have to not make friends and lean into our full potential. Realize that every time we step on the field, we negotiate an opportunity to demonstrate our full potential and what we’re capable of.
It’s having that courage to be vulnerable.
Even in business, it’s not even about yelling, being aggressive or angry. Sometimes it’s about finesse but having finesse means you know the craft so well that you can maneuver and manipulate in ways that others can’t.
It’s something we didn’t mention, though. Another reason why winning is important and you made me think of this is because winning creates new opportunities and establishes your expertise. That connects to what you said. As you’re speaking, I was thinking that way.
Even as children as they reach that competitive level, winning keeps them engaged in the game. In the sport, it makes them want to play more. I haven’t seen kids who have lost consistently but it’s great because they had good juice boxes at the end of the game. They want to keep playing. It’s the winning that makes them want to keep playing. My last note on this was don’t let the loss get lost. That means learning from it. You repurpose the hurt and pain into productive activities that will make the next time better. This is both for business and sports. It brings me back to my acronym for FAIL, which is Find All Important Lessons.Don't let the loss get lost. Repurpose the hurt and the pain into productive activities that will make the next time better. Click To Tweet
The last one on the winning mindset is interesting. You need to have a little bit of a defensive sensibility to be a winner too, which means you have an awareness of your weaknesses and are looking to negotiate or address your weaknesses as you’re pushing forward on your strengths.
I’ll finish piggybacking on that, pushing those strengths even to the point of unfair advantage. I love when people unlock their full potential by leaning into their strengths, not necessarily looking to balance out all of their skills but pushing their strengths to the point of unfair advantage. With that, we’re going to wrap up this episode.
If this was helpful for you, please tag it, follow it and subscribe to the show. I’m going to ask one last thing. I came here to win. If I beat Mimi in this episode and my points were better, I want you to comment on social media. Follow me or unfollow her. This is about dominance. You happen to be in the way. Thanks for joining us. Get back to your full mogul journey and we’ll see you in the next episode. Thank you.
- Dr. Mimi Nartey
- TEDx Talk – African Women’s Soccer and Empowerment: Memoirs of a Black Queen
- The Art of War