Winning Is Not the Same as Succeeding —
AAPA’s Spring Conference began this year on the night of the NCAA men’s basketball championship. For sports fans, it was the best kind of game – two well-matched teams playing high caliber basketball in a close game that didn’t break toward the winner until nearly the end. North Carolina went home elated with their win.
Yet one of the winningest coaches in all of college basketball didn’t really like to focus too much on winning. Coach John Wooden, who coached at the University of California Los Angeles and won 10 national championships from 1964 to 1975 (a record still unmatched in college basketball), became known at the end of his life for his eloquence in sharing the mindset he developed to drive his team to new heights: Winning was not the same thing as succeeding.
In a TED Talk delivered in 2001 and viewed more than 5 million times since then, Coach Wooden says that success is “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” This idea was the cornerstone of several books published by Coach Wooden, as well as an award given in his name and memory to honor the ideals of his life.
While Coach Wooden focused mostly on what it meant to be successful on the basketball court, his definition of success translates far beyond sports. It’s a definition that lends itself well to the port world, where increasingly stakeholders and customers expect more from their ports than simply “winning” in the sense
of moving the most boxes or tons of cargo. Ports are expected to bring the full extent of their resources to bear in all areas: cargo, yes, but also capital projects, community engagement, environmental leadership, financial health and other areas.
What ports have realized is that they are capable of so much more if they don’t try to achieve their goals on their own. More and more, ports don’t even set goals completely on their own. They seek input, feedback and, perhaps mostly importantly, partners and allies for the work they are doing.
This issue of Seaports magazine is built around the theme “Partnering for Success,” and we’ve taken a broad approach to both the idea of partnering and what success means. In some instances, simply continuing the maritime operations of the port is considered a success. In communities where waterfront property is in high demand for real estate and commercial development, having support for a working waterfront is success in and of itself.
In other areas, ports are expected to demonstrate growth – customers expect new landside facilities, deeper water and new equipment. Communities want to see more better-paying jobs. Standing still is not an option for these ports, but making decisions unilaterally would not be considered a success either.
Reaching agreement on a common vision for the port’s future is the first step to success and positions a port to be successful in its efforts to change and grow.
Sometimes, the partnership that is most critical to a port’s success is that between its staff and its board. As port directors retire or pursue new opportunities, a clearly-articulated succession plan can mean the difference between months of uncertainty or chaos and a smooth, successful transition from one leader to another.
While the stakes are high in terms of an effective board management partnership, they are often higher in the short term for issues such as security. A port that fails to secure its assets – both physical assets as well as data and technology infrastructure – cannot succeed elsewhere. When the issue is as critical as security, partnership is often the only effective means of achieving success.
The cornerstone of Coach Wooden’s philosophy was working to the best of one’s abilities all the time. I know AAPA’s member ports are not interested in simply checking boxes but in always finding new ways to do better, including leveraging partners and allies. I hope this issue of Seaports provides tools and inspiration for that journey.
By Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities