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How to Win at Work: 10 Tips to Consider

Source |  |  BY:, Professor, Vanderbilt UniversityGlobal ConsultantWriter

Imagine that you just arrived at work. Perhaps you had a long crosstown commute or a short walk down the hall to your home office – either way, you are about to start the day. Consider this question about your imaginary day:

Throughout the course of the day’s events, will you be playing to win orplaying not to lose?

A recent Wall Street Journal article proclaims that, Donald Trump Racks Up Few Wins So Far. It explains that, “Ten weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump hasn’t had an easy week yet.” Let’s be clear, I would imagine that an ‘easy week’ rarely appears on any president’s calendar, but in President Trump’s case, a person who has likely played every day of his professional life trying to win, he may very well be trying not to lose at this point.

Over the last 20+ years, I have had the honor of partnering with thousands upon thousand of leaders around the world. Some interactions involved long consulting engagements that continued for years – others were merely a multi-day workshop or simply a keynote speech. Overtime, patterns begin to emerge. One such pattern is that in many organizations leaders and teams aren’t playing to win. All too often people are simply playing not to lose. They keep their heads down and elect not to bring their best efforts to work each day.

It’s interesting, teams and organizations can become addicted to winning or addicted to losing – it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This pattern of playing not to lose can often be overcome when leaders learn to flip the ‘game on’ switch that is arguably hardwired in our DNA. To throw the switch and drive engagement, leaders must make work a winnable game. This may sound simple, but it is rare. Few leaders have mastered how to create an engaging game for and with their people.

Here are 10 tips for making work a Winnable Game (the list is not all inclusive, but is intended to be a starting point for your efforts):

#1: Identify a worthy but defeat-able opponent. Playing a game is a costly endeavor. It takes time, energy, and resources. If the opponent is easily beaten, people disengage. They also disengage if the opponent is unbeatable. Pick a goal that can be achieved AND matters.

#2: Create clear rules to play by. If the rules of the game are not appropriate for the undertaking, clearly defined, and consistently applied, players will lose interest or, worse, become highly cynical.

#3: Clarify the consequences – winning or losing matters. People care about a game when the outcome matters. If no consequences for winning or losing exist, players simply won’t care about the game. Just keeping your job is not enough!

#4: Challenge the players. The best games challenge players to put themselves to the test – unleashing their best knowledge, skills, talents and abilities to win the game.

#5: Strive for a fast pace – or at least an appropriate pace. To keep players engaged, the scoreboard needs to change often. When a game moves too slowly, players may become disinterested or move to another game. As a result, the original game is abandoned.


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