15: The Law of Victory

Those who persevere through a crisis do so by keeping focused on achieving victory. They do not except defeat and, even though overwhelming odds, continue to pursue victory with everything at their disposal.

He gives the example of Winston Churchill, who was an outspoken opponent of Germany before the war, and a great people to his people during the war. Even after the Germans had taken virtually all of continental Europe and the fall of Britain seemed certain, his speeches were of victory, acknowledging the offs against him, but with great determination to overcome them. To Churchill, conceding defeat was never an option: "Without victory, there is no survival."

The author also considers Nelson Mandela, who was a common man who became a great leader through his persistence. His toad to victory included twenty seven years in prison for protesting against the apartheid government of his country. He could have given up, sought amnesty abroad and lived in exile, but he continued to protest and pressure and remained dedicated to victory in spite of great personal sacrifice.

Perseverance through crisis is what defines some men as leaders: "whatever is inside of them" comes to the surface in times of difficulty, and works for or against them.

More Sports Metaphors

The author goes again into the realm of sports, as sorting matches "have immediate and measurable outcomes" and are serviceable illustrations of leadership.

In this instance, he speaks of basketball, a game in which individual players impress their fans through their personal performance, but few good players rise to greatness. Those that do practice teamwork, realizing that their personal talent alone won't carry the team to victory, become legendary. Being the star player on a losing team is of little value.

One example given is Magic Johnson, a three-time leave MVP and five-time championship winner. While he was a remarkable player as an individual, what made him a champion was not his personal ability to score, but his ability to coordinate his teammates and pass the ball to another player who was in a better position to score.

He also turns to football (John Elway) and soccer (Pele) for examples of athletes whose victories were attributed more to their ability to lead their teammates than to perform as an individual scorer.

Three Components of Victory

The author outlines three components that are critical to achieving victory:

  1. Unity of Vision. A group of people can succeed only when their efforts are coordinated toward a single outcome, and personal agendas are set aside. Returning to sports metaphors, a team composed of star players in which each player is looking to show off his personal ability will perform very poorly against a team of less-skilled but better coordinated players.
  2. Diversity of Skills. Every person has strengths and weaknesses, and a group of people who are all good at the same thing is weaker than one where there are a broader range of skills. Again to sports: a baseball team where every player is a star pitcher, or a hockey team where everyone is a great goalie, is doomed.
  3. Good Leadership. Even the most talented individuals won't pull together as a team without a leader who empowers individuals to contribute their greatest potential. This time, a quote from a college football coach: "You can't win without good athletes, but you can lose with them. This is where coaching makes a difference."

The Law of Victory in Business

The author at last emerges from the topic of sports to discuss business - specifically, Southwest Airlines under the leadership of Herb Kelleher. This airline is the only one that has earned a profit every year since 1973, earns consistently high marks with customers, and has extremely loyal employees.

Kelleher began as the company's attorney, partnering with a banker and an executive from a small commuter service. He came to the fore largely because other regional airlines attempted to use the courts to prevent them from doing business as soon as the company was incorporated: it took them four years to get their first plane off the ground.

Even then, the company remained plagued by lawsuits from other airlines that attempted to block them from providing service at major airports. And so, the firm focused on older airports in the markets they served: blocked from flying out of the new DFW airport, Southwest served the Dallas market through the older Love Field airport, which was closer to downtown.

Much of the efficiency of their operations arose from necessity: because the firm sold 25% of its small fleet to finance lawsuits, it had to turn around planes very rapidly in order to keep its routes and schedules - to the delight of passengers who loathed long waiting periods at other airlines. To fill the seats Southwest offered off-peak pricing that made flights more affordable to leisure travelers and cash-poor businesses.

The company has not only persevered, but excelled through vicious competition and tough economic conditions. One of the vice presidents of the firm asserted that "the very fight to survive is truly what created our culture." This is a leader, and an organization, that practices the law of victory.