“We are in an unpredictable world, I don’t know what will happen to my job tomorrow, so I don’t want to stick my neck out. The company is downsizing. I must be careful, you understand?” says Rachel, Head of HR in a large engineering firm. Rachel has some game changing ideas and thinks about shifting industry sectors to deploy them, but she has fallen into the habit of shrinking herself to fit the container that guarantees her security and hiding that from herself by rising to challenges (including being gradually promoted within her current company) that fit inside her zone of possibility. She wonders when she will feel more motivated at work.
Kristin has 1000 brilliant ideas a minute and spends a great amount of her time ‘at the drawing board’ creating amazing online and in person versions of her services that she then avoids putting out there by working harder to create bigger and better ones that she will one day transform the world with. She’s getting ready for the moment she will be ready. She alternates between enthusiasm and wondering whether it’s worth it.
Suzanne creates billions of dollars for her company each year. She has back to back meetings, barely has time to breathe and her safety instinct has her constantly by the throat. She notices she’s over 50 and thinks wistfully that, while her job is exceptionally stimulating, she would love to use her impressive experience and brilliance to create something more meaningful in the world – especially in her domain of expertise. But her kids haven’t finished studying and in the current context of uncertainty, is that really reasonable? Besides, she’s overbooked and exhausted.
Exhaustion. Lassitude. Boredom. Desperation. You know you’re playing not to lose when you’re acting in order to keep something, clutch on to it even, and it brings you no joy.
Playing not to lose is what it looks like when you are run by your natural human safety response and all of the beliefs you have made up about the world that reduce your options to one. Not moving.
While it may be a natural human safety response, it’s neither a powerful, nor an effective way of being for a leader. No more so in today’s context where nothing is certain, than it was 100 years ago when nothing was certain or that it will be in 100 years – when nothing will be certain.
Simply because, nothing is. ever. certain.
Helen Keller knew this when she said “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
While not everyone might like to see their life as a daring adventure (although, for the life of me I can’t imagine why not), the truth is too many great people sacrifice their lives, retreating into playing a smaller game – playing not to lose – rather than calling on the courage and leadership needed to play to win.
They feel the nudge of possibility, hit the wall of fear, then predictably spend enormous amounts of time, energy and even money to maintain or not lose exactly what they have – and call it logical. Is that you?
You know you’re playing not to lose when you are putting off decisions until you’ve minimised all risk to yourself. When you are slow to make decisions that involve you moving out of what you know or what is predictably achievable for you.
Playing not to lose shows up in not wanting to risk losing your hard-earned security, or status. Humans hate losing – much more than they love to win. And yet – in playing to win, we rise. We find resources we didn’t imagine we had.
Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes – not when it comes to the human safety instinct. It’s become a design flaw. Your safety and security might seem paramount, but admit it, there’s not a lot of possibility, or life in that. There’s no leadership in that either.
Embolden your thinking.
By definition, true leadership and accomplishment means leaning into risk, daring to overcome your inbuilt safety mechanisms and playing to win.
Playing to win is vital and generative.
Adventurous and creative.
Expansive and energizing.
Magical and awe inspiring.
Challenging, dynamic and deeply moving.
Playing to win – playing bigger – brings out all of the resilience, strength, creativity and potential that also characterises humans. In an uncertain world – the world we have always lived in – the best way to predict the future, as Abraham Lincoln and others since remind us, is to create it.
Playing to win requires you to get clear on a powerful outcome that calls you to live into another version of yourself you haven’t met yet. A higher paradigm – one that will become the foundation of a deeper, more empowered and energized life. And if you have a more empowered, energized life – you bring that to your communities and organisation.
Playing to win requires that Rachel stick her neck out for a very challenging conversation that fuels her enthusiasm for changing the game so much that her results surpass her own and everyone else’s expectations.
Playing to win calls Kristin to get out from behind the drawing board and actually transform the lives of those who will purchase her services – and her own in the process.
Playing to win asks of Suzanne to take back the responsibility for her diary, creating space in her life not only to breathe, but to cultivate her health and well-being. With her newfound lightness of being, she can create a micro loan partnership platform that alleviates poverty in developing countries.
Tomorrow the future will be just as uncertain as it is today.
You can play to not to lose, and exist.
Or play to win and really live.
You’re the leader.
What do you choose?
P.S. If you know you’re ready to play to win and have a mission bigger than you to bring into existence urgently, we should talk. There is no time to wait. The world needs you. You can find out more here and contact me here