The Underdog Mentality
We know the story by heart. A grossly superior adversary (Goliath) is out-dueled by an ostensibly less talented competitor (David). Underdogs emerge victorious because they have grit. They work harder, smarter, and faster than the competition because they believe they have to. That’s what it means to be an underdog.
Underdogs love being underestimated and overlooked. They don’t get discouraged by adversity. Their motto is, “Never give up.” Underdogs have a deep belief in their ultimate success. They enjoy being underdogs. In fact, they prefer it.
The key to the underdog mentality is a relentless desire to outwork and outsmart competitors through preparation. Whenever possible, underdogs take advantage of any situation by aggressively seeking an edge overlooked by others.
When no edge exists, they use a hyper-focus on preparation to gain the advantage. By practicing and preparing better than the competition, an underdog team comes to believe in its chances even when others don’t.
Creating an underdog mentality on purpose is hard, but not impossible. Leaders just need a little help from the competition. Whenever others project a team or company to underperform or be demolished by the competition, leaders can use the prediction as a powerful motivator.
Telling the team they are being overlooked or disrespected can serve as a rallying cry to dig deep and take on the underdog mentality. Team members then wildly over-prepare to make everyone betting against them wrong.
Nothing feels quite as good to a team as doing what others say they cannot do. Great leaders and teams relish this challenge and find it exhilarating. Victory as an underdog is said to be a thousand times sweeter. When you have nothing to lose, anything is possible.
There is something deeply ingrained in our desire for a certain kind of story to play out that favors the underdog as well. Even top performers who go all the way through a journey from underdog to conquering hero, we long for them (almost cheer for them) to go through extreme adversity -- injury, failure -- so we can see them cycle and reach the pinnacle again.