Playing not to lose…

March Madness is here.

When a team plays not to lose, they always lose.  When our team loses it hurts.  It usually plays out this way:  Our favorite team is up by 10 points, with less than 5 minutes left.  And then it happens…  We see it so clearly from a 1000 miles away on our TV…  The team that was aggressive and playing hard throughout the game starts playing not to lose.  What got them ahead – aggressive defense and going hard to the basket – turns into something else.  Now they are playing soft, tight and fearful.  It hurts to see our team start playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.

I get to work with a lot of leaders.  The playing not to lose attitude happens there as well, a lot more that I like to admit.  I do not believe it is something that people intentionally choose.  It starts off with good intention, it starts off with being methodical. Playing not to lose usually starts with being careful.  Playing not to lose starts with not wanting to do too much, too fast.  People get tight.  Leaders get fearful.  Leaders start playing soft.  They play to lose their credibility or position.  The risk of what could be lost outweighs the benefit of what could be gained.

In basketball- when our team starts playing not to lose, they lose.     They lose their tenacity.  The team we were rooting for earlier, ceases to exist and our cheering turns to jeering and urging our team to play as they had been before.  Leaders, like team captains, also end up losing when they travel the path of risk aversion.

What breaks my heart is when I see leaders showing a pattern of playing not to lose.  They have remained in this mindset so long that they play not to lose even when they are already losing.  They are already behind, already down and things are not working in the organization they lead – but they are unfaltered.  There is no intensity, no urgency in their leadership.  They tighten up even more and play it safer and more secure.  Playing not to lose has become their way of life and leadership.

Often, as a leader, I do not want to offend others, I would rather play not to lose or make anyone mad.  Therefore when conflict comes, I can lean away.  I am really tired of this in my life.  When I this behavior in others, it becomes clearer in my own life.  I am wanting to let these practices go.  To play to not lose is to lose the game before stepping onto the court.

Let us choose to play to win.

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