By Dr. James C. Carr, April 1982 (timeless)

His smile was broad, but the banker's eyes told me that his question was more than an attempt to make conversation. He was a client, a friend, and the president of the bank to which I had entrusted most of my pecuniary holdings. He had flattered me on occasion by soliciting my opinions and tonight he was doing it again.

We were guests at a major civic affair and were surrounded by the elite of the business and political community. Around the well-stocked bars, one could hear snatches of conversation. Inflation. Interest rates. Unemployment. Political intrigue. Mostly bad news, and I was reflecting how easily a gullible eavesdropper could be thrown into panic when John approached with his hand extended.

After an initial exchange of pleasantries, John looked at me with his quizzical smile and said, "Jim, you get around behind the scenes in a lot of businesses. What do you make of this current economic situation?"

I wished for sudden wisdom. How could I discuss economic concerns with a financial expert? But then John had asked the question of a psychologist, so I gave him a psychologist's answer: "John, the winners are still winning!"

The grin broadened and the eyes relaxed. John understood because he was a winner. He knew, as I did, that despite the conversational atmosphere, some people would continue to pursue and to reach their goals. No matter how pessimistic the news, a hardy group of optimists would be girding up to wring triumph out of adversity.

Someone has said, "In a calm sea, any man is a pilot." In times of prosperity, any businessman can show a profit. But when the sea or the economy gets rough, only the winners survive. How do they differ from the losers who find themselves floundering on the rocks and shoals of economic turbulence?

  • Winners depend upon themselves. Winners will put any advantage they can acquire to work, but they depend ultimately upon their own talents for the attainment of their goals. Fluctuating markets and changing politics may affect business either positively or negatively, and winners know that the only constants they can count on lie within themselves.

  • Winners recognize the importance of other people. They depend upon themselves, but they know how vital other people are to the success of their ventures. Even though human relations are always important, they are even more important in hard times. When tough decisions have to be made that involve other people, like raising prices or cutting back employees, the winners share and justify these decisions as much as they can with the people they affect.

  • Winners look for solutions, not scapegoats. When a loser suffers a setback, his first reaction is to look for someone or something to blame. A really skillful loser can virtually whitewash his own incompetence by laying it at the feet of government, other people, or even fate. The winner has no such need. He accepts his setbacks without cynicism, seeing them only as problems to be solved. He accepts fully the consequences of his actions, but he actually wastes very little time on blame of any kind.

  • Winners are less concerned with image than with accomplishment. They have a realistic perception of their strengths and their weaknesses and, though they will strive to capitalize upon their strengths, they take their personal flaws into account and cope realistically with them. Losers, lacking vivid insight into either their valid potential or their limitations, will find their shortcomings hard to deal with-or even to admit. Obeying some need to live up to their preconceived image of "businessman," many have taken their tailor made suits, Roffler-styled hair, and Lincoln Continentals straight into the courts of bankruptcy.

  • Winners act on their own authority. Winners do not share the losers' vulnerability to the opinions of other people. Winners can make concessions when they have to and they are typically eager to learn from anyone. But when it is time to act, they act upon their own convictions even when there is a risk of ridicule or censure. Losers, on the other hand, may be so fearful of being "wrong," that they fawn upon their superiors and cater to the whims of their peers. They may demonstrate individuality only in mistreatment of their subordinates.

  • Winners are tenacious in the pursuit of their goals. Winners change pace, change tactics, change priorities. but always with an ultimate goal in mind. Their behavior may appear inconsistent at times to the uninformed, but it does not compare with the behavior of losers who may abandon a job, a project even a long-term goal when the going gets rough. With the winner, the ultimate goal is constant and only the strategy gets modified.

  • The winner's goal is the accomplishment, not the reward. Winners are builders. They are achievers. They are contributors. And while the losers exhaust themselves trying to determine how to acquire the most by giving the least, winners occupy themselves with the pursuit of accomplishment. This is not to say that winners are entirely altruistic. that they desire nothing in return for their efforts. Indeed, many of them expect to be rewarded handsomely for their contributions, but the exercise of, their ingenuity, the monument to their talent, the completion of a project, takes precedence over material rewards.

In times of economic turbulence, the challenge to the talent and creativity increases. Those who meet the challenge the winners are still winning.

Dr. Carr is a management psychologist specializing in personnel selection and motivation. Based in Charlotte, he is a member of the American Psychological Assoc., the National Speakers Assoc., and Sales and Marketing Assoc., and Sales and Marketing Executives International. April 1982