What can we learn from Ronnie the Rocket about winning?

Ronnie O’Sullivan is unlike other legendary sports people in a number of ways.

First of all, he’s got huge longevity: he is the only snooker player to have won the world championship as both the youngest, and now the oldest player.

Secondly, at the same time as being on top of the modern game, in some ways he is traditional. He won’t switch chalks. Most snooker players use the TAOM chalk which apparently reduces friction better. Ronnie has stuck with the old Triangle chalk. It certainly doesn’t seem to be holding him back from being both one of the most successful and the most entertaining players.

Thirdly, he says frequently that he does not care about winning at all costs. Although his rivals talk about him as a legend, he must annoy them. He often talks about the fact that he really doesn’t care about winning, only about playing well.

And yet time and again, he wins.

Fourthly, when he plays badly, which he acknowledges that he does reasonably frequently, his competitor seems to drop their game too. Ronnie will then apologise for “dragging the other player down to his level”. Ronnie then recovers his game and beats the opponent. It is like a weird version of the “Tiger Woods effect” whereby the presence of a superstar in a tournament has statistically been shown to diminish the performance of the other contenders. Weird because in the Tiger Wood instance this was because he was playing so well. Not, to quote Ronnie, “dragging the other player down to my level”.

In January 2024 Ronnie won his 8th Masters Final and the World Grand Prix. But he told his public that its not winning that matters to him as much as playing well.

In an interview with ITV Sport on January 17th 2024, Ronnie said this:

“Its nice winning tournaments, you know, but the biggest worry for me is that I’m not really comfortable, or I don’t feel that I’m playing with confidence – to do with cueing and stuff like that. I know I’ve won tournaments but I’m still not really happy with my game, which is more important that winning tournaments to me…… it’s been surprising, I don’t know where it (winning) has come from. Maybe cos its not the most important thing for me. The most important thing is I want to play well. I’d rather play well and get beaten than play badly and win.”

Now clearly Ronnie likes to win (as he has stated before). No champion is averse to winning. But caring about how you do it as well as what the outcome can indeed drive more longevity and better job satisfaction in the long run.

Winning at any price can drive short term benefits in our sector, but winning at the wrong price may mean under resourcing an account, failing to have anything other than a transactional relationship and can be harmful for the work and the outcomes for clients and businesses.

Teams suffer under a pressure to win at any price. We are all human and usually we are motivated by doing our best work. Compromise might be pragmatic, but if it is the only option time and again, then its not the most motivating way to win.

A boss once told me, “don’t worry about winning the pitch and double guessing what you think people want to hear. Focus on what we think is right and showing up as our best version of the ourselves”. It was inspiring, it took the pressure off, it made me want to win even more (and in fact we did win.)

Winning matters, but so too does being your best self at work, doing beautiful work and delivering true breakthroughs. Putting the latter first, may help you come first more often.

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