I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately, particularly when it comes to playing to win or playing not to lose. Think about any sport with qualification rounds.

There’s a noticeable difference between a team playing to win and one playing defensively. The former is aggressive, on the front foot, taking shots even if they might miss. The latter is focused on avoiding loss, being risk-averse, and potentially missing out on opportunities.

As individuals, we tend to have a default thinking style when it comes to motivation. It’s a continuum – do we move towards something we desire, or do we move away from something we want to avoid?

Take health, for example – do we strive to be healthy, or do we simply want to avoid being unhealthy?

I’ll use myself as an example. I have Type 2 Diabetes. It’s genetic. I’m obsessed with keeping my blood sugar levels under control.

When I look at my motivation. it’s defensive. While I obviously want to be healthy, it’s the fear of negative consequences that drive me. Irreversible nerve damage, heart disease, losing a limb or eyesight.

Which makes me incredibly disciplined in what I eat (I still love sweets and chocolate – just hardly eat them) etc.

Let’s look at this in a business leadership context, especially in what may be difficult economic conditions ahead.

If you’re playing to win means being pulled towards success, focusing on growth, having a clear vision, setting goals, and taking proactive and ambitious steps.

It involves seeking opportunities, embracing challenges, and viewing setbacks as chances to learn. It’s about being innovative, taking risks, and investing time and money in personal and team development with an attitude of “What if this works?”

On the flip side, leaders playing to not lose tend to be more cautious, risk-averse, and often ask, “What if it doesn’t work?”, prioritising safety and stability, sticking to the status quo to avoid mistakes – it’s like having one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong approach; it’s about what’s useful.

Just like a sports team needs both offense and defence, as business leaders we need a forward-thinking, goal-oriented strategy while being mindful of risks. It’s about playing to win and safeguarding your position in the field.

Share this...