Win-Win or Win-Lose?

by | Apr 15, 2021

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Part of A Happier Ward Series – (ward health)

Highlights for Doctrine and Covenants 37-40

This article took 3 solid days and 20+ years of learning curves for me to write. See what you think?

The title of this article is “Win-win or Win-Lose”? But first, let’s add another scenario: ” lose-lose,” which is also a common outcome. We frequently see examples of lose-lose. You and I could sit together over a cup of herbal tea and pastries and name lose-lose scenarios we see in associates and society all around us. Everyone has experienced situations where everyone involved in an awkward or unfortunate exchange suffers. Misery loves company and is an expert at multiplying itself.

One of the Greatest Leadership Principles of All-time

Interestingly, the Savior is the opposite of lose-lose. Repeatedly, Jesus Christ instructs us how to achieve a win-win for all. We’ll take a look at some of those blueprints throughout this article. For example, the height of sainthood is repeated twice within these two short verses from Doctrine and Covenants 38:24-25. See if you notice what the emphasis is?:

“Let every man esteem his brother as himself.” That’s another way of saying: let’s make sure the Golden Rule applies and that we look out for the best interest of others along with ourselves. Go for the win-win. It sounds a lot like the second great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

At first, this sounds like a simple enough assignment – esteeming someone else as oneself. It’s an attitude adjustment, right? Well, reality check, this is the most opposite of human nature there is. Let me share two common ways people do not esteem others like themselves. It’s so prevalent that it even finds its way into church culture sometimes; you might not realize it is happening.

A Real Life Win-Lose Example

It is nearly universal, in our society, to make win-lose decisions. In other words, most people individually or as a small group decide on the “best” or most “worthy/correct” outcome and take lightly others’ perspectives or the collateral damage which falls to everyone else. If their cause is “just,” all disappointments they create are justified. Here is a simple, recent example. This is just my personal opinion, so forgive me if you don’t agree and just let me use it as a parable for the sake of the higher point.

Salt Lake City just rebuilt its airport, which reopened last year (2020). They spent $4.1 billion, and the thing is a colossal failure. How do I know? I traveled through it several times this year already. The most prevalent word you can hear among its travelers walking to their gates is “ridiculous.” The airport may be one of the worst designs I have ever witnessed anywhere in the world. They decided to centralize all airline check-ins into one terminal. Sounds efficient until you walk up to a mile to get to your gate. There are no trains or trams, and the moving sidewalks are far in between. They often don’t work (it’s a new airport). My son, who works there, says the back-ups and delays at the Security checkpoint are worse than ever because of the new design. What was the purpose of the new layout? The design is optimal, it’s awesome for the airplanes and airlines on the tarmac outside. The comfort and convenience of travelers trying to get to the gates were sacrificed for the airlines’ benefit.

Real-time SLC Airport Reviews

Listen to a couple of these reviews from, both less than a week old. I witness they are correct:

“What a shame. This airport might look flashy, but [it’s] worse than the one it replaced in literally every other way I have experienced and can think of. It is truly a tragedy that we are stuck with this utterly horrible design for decades.” (E. Merritt ~ April 15, 2021)

In an age of project planning, focus groups, and ADA, how is this even legal. Appalling. When I got on the departing flight, a young guy said to the person sitting next to him, “How many times do you think we’ve heard the word ‘ridiculous’ in the last 45 minutes?” I like to walk, and I didn’t have a bag, so my concerns are for those with heavy backpacks, small children, the aged, the unfit, and those on tight schedules. I pity anyone who has more than one of those factors.” (S. Scott ~ April 14, 2021)

Another Win-Lose Example From Church Culture

Consider this version of win-lose. In our church culture, we highly prize the family. Indeed, raising families is one of our most important God-given duties. Can the principle of “family first” be polluted or taken too far? Yes, it happens whenever “family first” or “family time” conflicts with one of the first two commandments, “love God with all thy might, mind and heart.” or”love thy neighbor as thyself” – if so, something fell out of balance.

I may exaggerate here for the sake of illustrating a point, but do consider this example: we might see one family put the interests and esteem of its clan above all others’ well-being and esteem. As long as it turns out okay for their family unit, they have God’s permission to disregard and blow up anyone else’s best interest. You will find no scriptural backing for such an idea. I call it the “false god of family time.” Fair question, just what is “family first” and “family-time” truly about? I’ll quote Elder Oaks on this topic in a bit.

Let me share a real-life, unusual example from one small town where I lived many years ago. One prominent, head-family forbid all others in the ward to hold any councils or church meetings after Church on Sunday, even very essential ones, because…for their family, it was Taco Sunday. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. And since that tradition was all about family and important to their numerous extended family group, meetings could not take place on a Sunday.

Ponder the Point

One might ask what happens if six other family clans claimed the rest of the days of the week for their very important family traditions? Do Church meetings stop altogether? Or what if Sunday is usually about the only common time for a lot of people to be able to meet? The question is: who gets priority?

This example is a bit extreme, but we habitually see lesser versions of it and might not recognize what is happening. An evolved version of “family first,” different than what the Brethren meant – may creep in once in a while. Think about it, and see if any situations come up for you? It goes something like this: if the classification “family” can be attached to the event or need – it justifies disrupting duties and commitments that might be better for the welfare of the larger community, including a neighbor, a friend, the ward, or the Church. The problem is we have many families to consider and everyone belongs to God’s family. Who decides which family clan has an ultimate say for any specific opinion, idea, date, or time?

If we are not careful, the idea of “family first” can become an over-worshipped idea and repeatedly create win-lose situations for others.

Back to the Basics

It seems we kind of forgot we’re in the business of saving souls first and foremost, (because that has eternal consequences) and the Church has a four-fold mission to fulfill which is paramount:

1. Proclaim the Gospel
2. Perfect the Saints
3. Redeem the Dead
4. Care for the Poor and Needy

Sometimes, this four-fold mission gets pushed off the radar.

We may have swung the church culture pendulum from one extreme to the other – from the overdone “mega meeting, church-calling workaholics” who neglect family vs. clan self-absorption and excusing ourselves from building God’s Kingdom in the name of family. To be fair, such vacillating back and forth is a mortal thing.  I’m not judging anyone because I’ve been on both sides myself. We’re forever trying to find and identify the happy medium—both as individuals and collectively together.

The Real Version of “Family First”

Now, just about every General Conference, the Brethren repeatedly remind us to be of more service in the Lord’s kingdom.  They coach us to steady the two principles, both service in the Lord’s kingdom and the importance of family. For balance, we need to be somewhere in between the two extremes.  Here are some quotes to help with this idea:

“…We need to add to that the caution that if we make more family time available, parents have to take more responsibility in making sure that it doesn’t just increase sports, television viewing, individual athletic activities, or participation in many, very good community activities for children. We are not trying to hobble ourselves in competing with other activities [in other words, don’t diminish time at Church by filling the extra time with more secular activities]. We are trying to discipline the use of Church meetings and Church activities in favor of the family. And the family has got to fill that vacuum instead of inviting others in to fill it.” (Elder Oaks @ WWLT Feb 2008)

Remember, we’re in the business of saving souls.

“And when we speak of family first, we have to think of ideas like family prayer and family home evening and family scripture study and making time and seeing that these things happen which have eternal consequences in the spiritual growth of our children. That’s a manifestation of “family comes first.” (Elder Oaks @ WWLT Feb 2008)

Sister Beck Clarifies the Win-Win

I love how Sister Beck immediately followed up Elder Oaks comments at the same meeting.

“I remember the wonderful teaching of Elder Ballard when he taught us to be wise. “O be wise,” he said, “in choosing these things.” The teaching of sacrifice is important. Some of the beginning stirrings of my testimony, if I go back to when I first started to say, “This is a wonderful church,” were watching my parents serve and struggle in their callings and learn. That taught me some things. And I’ve been stretched and drawn to the Lord through my service. I would never want to say that it’s either family or service. It has to be a marriage and a unity of what we commit to the Lord to help build His kingdom and what we’ve committed to build a family. They go together. It’s not one or the other.” (Sister Beck @ WWLT Feb 2008)

Children learn tremendous goodness from watching their parents serve others and sacrifice time and talents for the Church.

In the same manner that we esteem our brother as ourselves, we also esteem other families like our family. We look for the greatest welfare for the most people involved whenever we can. We teach our children what Christ’s win-win for ALL of God’s family looks like.

As a side note: Sometimes win-lose choices habitually happen inside a single-family unit, where the repeated self-centeredness of one person impinges upon or reduces the family’s well-being as a whole.

One of the greatest spiritual leadership qualities we can develop is to adjust our decision-making to create win-wins just like the Savior – inside the family and outside the family.

The Parable of the Blue T-shirt (awesome leadership skill)

Consider the parable of the blue t-shirt. It’s a simplistic example, but I use it to teach win-win leadership. Let’s say you have a sports team that wants to have matching t-shirts for their games. They have a logo, but they need to agree on the t-shirt color. There are 4 team members. Member 1’s first choice is green. Member 2’s first choice is pink. Member 3’s first choice is chartreuse, and Member 4’s first choice is purple. The problem is Member 1 thinks pink and chartreuse are ridiculous and refuses to even consider such a color. Member 4 says green makes them feel ill. And Member 2 thinks only Donny Osmond should ever wear purple. How can we resolve such a quandary? Every color is a win-lose or a lose-lose for somebody. As we talk to the team members we find out that all of them would be okay and at least not feel sick with blue, as an alternate choice. Blue has buy-in from everybody and even though it wasn’t anyone’s first choice – as a team, it is the happiest color with the most satisfaction all the way around.

When we hold any kind of council – we need to find consensus with others, rather than dominate the outcome.

Looking for win-wins means we may have to put our favorite option or most righteous cause down. It means we don’t insist the other team members go along with green (or our righteous opinion) because we think it is the sharpest color. Instead, we look for the highest degree of buy-in for everyone involved. This shows more respect and esteem for everyone involved.

Esteem thy brother as thyself. Pick the t-shirt color both of you can live with. As families and individuals, look for win-wins with those around you whenever possible.


Last General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf taught: [The Savior] teaches us to become His disciples—that our hearts should not strive for personal power, wealth, approval, or position. You might remember how He instructed his disciples not to seek the most honored seats in the house like the Pharisees did. In other words, situations where we are esteemed or recognized above another. Instead, we seek for how all can be esteemed, just like the Savior does.

Jesus’s version of win-win takes my breath away every time I read a verse like this one from Section 88.

The Lamb of God hath overcome and trodden the wine-press alone…And then shall the angels be crowned with the glory of his might, and the saints shall be filled with his glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him. (D&C 88:106-107)

May we follow Christ’s most astounding, generous example of esteeming us as Himself and wanting to give us everything He has. We can esteem our brothers and sisters as ourselves because of who we are and who we strive to emulate.

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  1. Pat

    Thank you so much for your insights!

    • Shawnie Cannon

      Why didn’t I see your comment before? Thank you for your kind words. They made my day.


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