When I was a kid, winning was simple. If I ran faster or jumped higher than the other girl, I got a better color ribbon than she did. If I spelled more words correctly in class, I won the contest. If my team scored more points than the other team, we got the trophy. I cared very much about winning. I coveted the blue ribbon and gold trophy. Oh I how despised the dreaded red ribbon of second place. Not winning meant either I didn’t try hard enough or I wasn’t good enough.

How winning changed

The more I competed, the more I got to experience both winning and losing. I went from thinking I was the smartest kid in the class to coming to the understanding that some kids were smarter than I was – I’m looking at you, John R*. I’ve won my share of contests, but in the early days of my career, it sometimes seemed to me like the amount of effort I put in to studying, preparing, or practicing didn’t always guarantee the level of reward I thought I deserved.

Picking the winner

As I grew in leadership, I got to have more experience in determining levels of reward for others and understanding the intricacies and intangibles that could affect the outcome. I started to participate in recommending people for positions, grading papers, judging writing contests, hiring people into jobs, and awarding contracts to vendors. My position of privilege gave me access to learning some of the backroom politics and even legalities that went into people getting the chance to be in the winner’s circle. As a mentor, I like to help emerging leaders understand some of the processes that go into curating a list of 70 applicants down to 8 phone interviews to 4 finalists to 1 job offer to help them improve their odds.

Winning a job

Getting picked for a job in some ways is like winning an award. Being a finalist is an honor but getting the offer is the prize. More than once, I’ve tried for a job that I didn’t really want. When I was honest with myself, I had to admit that sometimes I wanted the offer but didn’t really want the job. The more I hire, the more I can tell when someone wants the offer more than the job.

When John Treksalis of Chicago CEO Coaching said to me that the job goes to the person who wants it most I had to pause. How does a person who wants the job most behave? His words of wisdom helped me understand how to behave differently to show that I really wanted a job rather than really wanted the job offer. Specifically – drop every distraction, build a support team, learn the behind-the-scenes, put in the time, and most of all – let them see me try. Mary Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services provided this insight for building a brand or getting a job: ask my references – effectively my nominators – what they would say about me. And then use those same words to describe myself. Simple. Effective. Brilliant.

Becoming a nominator

A number of years ago when I was notified that I was selected for recognition by an industry group it dawned on me that in order for me to get this recognition, someone had to take the time to nominate me. It was a humbling thought that someone had made this effort on my behalf. And it got me not only thinking but acting differently. I realized that there were dozens and dozens of annual awards in our industry and our community, all waiting for nominations. What was I going to do about that? Write more nominations.

I just learned that a very deserving colleague several of us nominated for an award wasn’t chosen. If I remember correctly, I think that was the only nomination I put forward this year. In order to improve the odds that someone in my social or professional circle wins an award, one of my goals for the coming year is to keep nominating individuals, teams, or my organization until one of them gets the prize. In order to be successful, I’m going to have to be more intentional – do a little more research on what awards are out there, set aside specific time in my calendar, reach out to colleagues to start a campaign, and see if we can help a deserving person get recognized.

Aiming to win

Why all the fuss? Earlier this fall, I was at a fundraising event where several high school students were recognized for their accomplishments or contributions to a cause. Their short speeches, almost to a person, revealed true humility and disbelief at being selected. One said, “I never thought I was that special.” Their stories moved people to tears and to contribute. There was a kind of collective pride in the audience in acknowledging these kids and their achievements. These are good enough reasons for me to take a few hours of my year to devote to trying to create that same experience for a friend or colleague. Who’s with me?

*John R. – Every now and then I think back on this pivotal moment and wonder what John does for a living. I figured engineer or MD. So I reached out to former classmates on social media and found out he is both: got a degree in engineering and then an M.D. John is still smarter than I am.