The Importance of Short-Term Wins


Short-term wins can be more valuable than high-profile defeats. They shift momentum to your side, help you earn trust and turn those who are neutral or against you into allies.

    It is impossible to overstate the importance of short-term wins in the process of leading any team or organization through the rocky rapids of change. If you take over a team that went 2-13 the last four years, do NOT schedule Alabama for your home opener, believing God for a gridiron miracle. That's not faith. It's magical thinking. Instead, schedule Slippery Rock for your first home game and win big. Roll up the score. In other words, a small win is an infinitely better strategy than a showy loss.

     In negotiating the headwinds of change, remember that you will have resisters all along the route. Not may have. WILL HAVE.  Some may rise up and fight you. They are not the problem. Those are the easiest to deal with. The silent resisters, the underground opposition are your real problem. Nothing shifts the tide in your favor like wins. A stream of small wins early is a great momentum builder.  Plan them. Set up easy targets and hit them.

     Here are six important ways to turn short-term wins into long-term leadership gains. This is leadership alchemy and is the key to turning the ship in the face of contrary winds. Each small win is a step to big success if you:

1) Celebrate small wins big. Do not yield to the temptation to wait for the big win before you celebrate. You just won the first home opener in four years? Great! That's not the time for some limp announcement. Celebrate like you just won the Super Bowl.

2) Connect the dots between the win and the changes you made. This is NOT the time for modesty. Remind the team what you asked them to do and how it got them the win. This builds confidence in your leadership and in their ability to put into practice changes that make for wins. The next change you make will be easier for them to trust.   You increased ( sales, attendance, revenue, whatever ) by half a percent. Great! Don't wait. Celebrate now. Pop a cork. Sound a gong. Then at 1 percent do it again. And again at 5 percent.  And again and again and again.

3) Take time to point out that the win justifies the pain of the change. I promise you some on your team did not like the changes. I also promise you they like winning. Talk pain and gain. And talk lots.

4) Analyze the results. What else needs to be changed? What can you add, invest in, shift, shrink, stop doing or do more of? Every successful change means more strategic change. Celebrate big. Then, do serious analysis. Then, change something else.

5) Use the wins to weed out resisters. The silent opposition will usually become more apparent as the wins and the celebrations pile up. They cannot remain on your team. Weeding the garden is not much fun, but without it the old weeds choke out new growth.

6) Then shift the "neutrals" on the team to energetic positives. Some on your team are not opposed to your changes. They just want to be like Switzerland. At first, for awhile you can afford them. They are not the problem your resisters are, but they also don’t add much momentum. Energetically draw them into the celebration. Make them feel the joy of winning. Encourage their first effort and make it clear you expect more energy on the next level of changes. If they can get on your band wagon, you have kept valuable team members on board. If they won't get there and get there quickly ... return to number five and face facts.

I teach these six steps as one small part of a much more robust lecture at the National Institute of Christian Leadership. Leading change is seldom easy, but it is doable. Furthermore, this is not theory. I have proven that this recipe works. In fact, I've proven it over and over again in laboratories as diverse as coaching sports to pastoring churches to turning around a failing college. I know these six steps can shift momentum in your direction and I would be honored to share this lecture and so much more with you at the National Institute of Christian Leadership.

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