Are You Playing to Win — Or Playing Not to Lose?

In the 2014 Winter Olympics there were high expectations that Team USA snowboarder Shaun White would win his third consecutive gold medal.  But he ended up fourth, missing the medal podium completely.

What led to this disappointing result?  It turns out that in 2014 White played “not to lose.” He relied on the same moves that won him gold medals in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. His young, aggressive competitors didn’t think that way – they fought hard with new, powerful moves.  They played to win – and they have the medals to prove it.

playing to win

Now Shaun is preparing to compete in the 2018 Olympics and won’t make the same mistake again.  He has new coaches to take him to the next level, a more aggressive training regimen and a more selective competition schedule, focusing on quality over quantity. He’s absolutely playing to win the Gold in 2018.

I use Shaun’s story as an example when I’m working with business leaders.  I ask them: “Are you playing to win… or are you playing not to lose?”

Are you super cautious…maybe even overly cautious? Do you hold back because you’re afraid you might make a mistake? Do you spend most of your time fighting fires and/or making sure you don’t lose ground versus working to innovate? These are all symptoms of playing not to lose.

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of playing it safe when you feel like you’re carrying the whole company on your shoulders.  In truth it’s not safe – it’s actually the most dangerous game plan of all. While you’re protecting the business, your competition is innovating, growing and taking away your competitive advantages.

Instead, I challenge leaders to play to win. Focus on creating new opportunities for your business. Spend your time breaking new ground, innovating, learning, taking risks. Yes, it may mean failing sometimes, but that’s how you get stronger.

If you truly focus on growth and do whatever it takes to get to the next level, you’ll discover a new energy that will run through the entire company. You’ll start to see things happening faster, goals being smashed and a team that’s thriving alongside you. 

So, are you ready to focus on where you want to be, not where you are?  Are you ready to play to win?