Win-Win Thinking Rare, Getting Rarer

Fate loves irony.

When else would the champion of “Think Win-Win” die but during these frenzied, over-bearing win-lose times?

Insistent optimist Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” passed away last month. His provocative fourth habit, “Think Win-Win,” seems to be failing too.

Covey taught that people who will listen, exhibit courage and compassion, and act with principle can find win-win solutions to even the most perplexing problems. “Win-win is a paradigm of human interaction,” he said. “It comes from integrity, maturity, and abundance mentality. It grows out of high trust relationships.”

Conversely, he taught that “People with a win-lose mindset are concerned with themselves first and last. They achieve success at the expense or exclusion of another’s success. They are driven by comparison, competition, position, and power.”

Hmmm, which of these do you think better describes our national politics today? Our state or even local politics?

Underlying the habit of “Think Win-Win” is the concept of mutual benefit, itself a derivative of the Golden Rule. People of good will seek solutions that benefit others, not just themselves. Paul spoke of this in Romans (14:19 ESV) saying, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

While rare, we can find examples of leaders practicing “Think Win-Win.” Leaders from Pontotoc, Union, and Lee Counties in north Mississippi thought win-win, crafted the PUL Alliance, and landed Toyota. Supporting that effort was an earlier win-win alliance, the Mississippi Corridor Consortium. Formed by the leaders of Itawamba, Northeast, and East Mississippi Community Colleges, it allows them to share resources and staff to better serve their multi-county region.

More often, though, we see lost opportunities where one or more “leaders” practiced win-lose. A number of innovative Katrina re-build opportunities on the Gulf Coast suffered this fate. Others point to the Jackson area’s inability to move the Two Lakes project forward or Meridian’s struggles to take advantage of Jimmie Rodgers’ legacy as examples.

Then there is the win-lose mentality surrounding modern ideas to revamp government. Superintendents quickly killed the Commission on Educational Structure recommendation to streamline school district operations into one per county, never looking at the win-win possibilities and benefits to taxpayers. Black leaders castigated former Jackson State University President Ron Mason for just putting on paper his ideas about consolidating Mississippi’s three historically black universities, never looking into the mutual benefits he envisioned.

“Early in life we learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition,” wrote Covey. “We think about succeeding and winning in terms of someone else failing and losing. Even when cooperation could bring greater results and healthier relationships, we think win-lose and turn our efforts to competition.”

Rare win-win thinking will become rarer without champions like Covey.

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