When losing is winning

As the New Zealand resident from Dalmau Consulting, I have been immersed in the media coverage and national energy of the America’s Cup held in San Francisco over the last few weeks, as the Emirates Team New Zealand attempted to capture one of sailing’s most prestigious awards.

The boys of Emirates Team New Zealand are national heroes, despite ‘losing’.

National radio and television have been riveted on the event and debated issues such as whether the country should hold a ticker-tape parade in their honor…. for a team that was unsuccessful!  Though, were they?

To an outsider, it seems stunningly obvious that they failed.  They were 8-1 in front with the winner being the first to 9, a seemingly unassailable lead, yet they lost 8-9 to Oracle USA.

What is remarkable is how they have been perceived throughout – by the way they have conducted themselves in all manner of interviews, their accessibility to the public and press, their willingness and openness to talk about the ‘un-discussables’  (responding to the Press on their personal reactions to what is referred to as the ‘kiwi choke’). Throughout all of this their attitude remained positive. They remained willing to put in the hard work.

So what has been the result? It is certainly not one of a nation abandoning the spirit this team displayed. Millionaires from around the country have already put up their hand to have a part in bank-rolling their next bid. Dean Barker, the captain of the team, has become a household name – a phenomenal result for a team that ‘failed’.

This remarkable story illustrates the importance to a team of strong values and consistent behaviours aligned with these values.  Dean Barker, the team leader modeled many characteristics of great leaders as defined by Jim Collins (leaders who first and foremost have the right people on their team in the right roles, and who understand and can articulate the big picture, are humble, focused, persistent and disciplined) and fostered a palpable team spirit. Throughout the race series commentators often noted the extremely high level of communication among the team. They were slick, exemplary in their cohesiveness – constantly supporting each other and providing positive ‘filters’ about the team to the world.

Emirates Team New Zealand, by displaying outstanding team work and leadership have been able to turn a loss into a win  – for New Zealand, for their own careers and for New Zealand’s next America’s Cup campaign.  Already, team members have offers from many other teams trying to snap them up for the next regatta in a few years time.

There is a lesson for all teams here – both in sporting arenas and in organizations.

Cathy Taylor

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