Try This Strategy to Increase Your Winner Effect (and Others’)

It takes more than talent to win, according to new research.

Two recent studies have found that, because winning suppresses stress hormones like cortisol, it increases your confidence and willingness to take risks, all of which help build more momentum toward more success. Essentially, success begets success. It’s what the researchers call the “winner effect.”

Winning even changes the biochemical makeup of the body, making winners smell intimidating. Losing, on the other hand, has the opposite physiological effect.

The bottom line? How you feel (and smell) plays a big part in your success.

Two faculty members at Harvard Business School add some interesting insight to these findings. John Kotter, a best-selling author on leading change in organizations, says that when wins are celebrated, positive change builds momentum. And Rosabeth Moss Kanter points to research that your confidence drives future wins. In other words, celebrating and affirming success will make you more confident, and as a result, you’ll be more equipped to succeed and win when you face your next challenge.

Regardless of talent or background, the winner effect can become a multiplier of success, and it’s within the reach of each of us. But we don’t always set ourselves up for it.

How do you celebrate success? (You do celebrate success, right?)

People tend to respond to success in one of six ways. Consider which is your natural tendency:

  1. Neglect. A sales representative recently shared that he’d closed one of his largest deals. After three days of hearing nothing from his boss, he went to ask him whether he’d seen the deal go through. “Yes, I did,” the boss said. “I’ve been too busy to connect with you on it.”
  2. Expect. This is how my football coach in high school reacted to success. He would instruct the players: “Never celebrate in the end zone. Just hand the ball back to the ref and run back to the sidelines. You don’t want the other team to think you were surprised to score.”
  3. Correct. I have a good friend who tends to look at the world through skeptical and critical eyes. When I tell him about my successes, he’ll inevitably respond with a perfunctory “congrats,” and then he’ll immediately try to help me see what I need to do next or why I might need to be concerned about the win.
  4. Respect. Many leaders celebrate wins with a respectful and respectable nod to the performance. There are plenty of examples of leaders who don’t usually show much emotion and remain composed because of their self-imposed or perceived cultural expectations.
  5. Deflect. Some leaders lead with humility. The “servant leader” mindset might cause certain leaders to think that taking any credit for success might come at the expense of others, so they point to someone else as the one responsible for it.
  6. Inject. One of my early managers would always add more excitement to a success. When we’d win a new customer, for example, he’d be the loudest to celebrate. He’d spontaneously stand up and sing at the top of his voice, a la Ginger Rogers, “We’re in the money!” It energized everyone and made us all laugh.

I suppose there is a time and a place for each of these tendencies. That said, I wonder which one best promotes a healthy winner’s effect?

One answer comes from the obsession of my third grader twin boys. They love a show called Dude Perfect, which highlights a sequence of incredible feats of athleticism and skill. Each attempt to make a basketball shot from the roof of a building or to throw a football through a target 40 yards away begins with childlike anticipation: Can he make it??

When the attempt is successful, the guys on the show go BERSERK! They throw their hands up, cheer, hug and smile. Despite the challenges they attempt, the vibe on the show is confidence. They look like winners. And I love watching it. My wife loves watching it. My two-year old daughter loves watching it. We all want to be a part of their group because they win and they thoroughly enjoy doing it together.

Consider this thought: What if you were to deliberately inject more enthusiasm into even the smallest wins? What if people around you felt like you sincerely raised the excitement levels when good things happened? Maybe you’d look, feel—and yes, smell—even more like a winner.



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