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  • Writer's pictureLeeanne Carson-Hughes

The Savvy Leader #3 Playing to win rather than not to lose

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Dear leaders

We have an opportunity to build better organisations!

We can play to win rather than play to not lose.

Too often, leaders find themselves trapped in the shackles of a defensive strategy, focused on minimizing risk and avoiding failure in front of colleagues or the Board. Playing what I think of as the “old school reputation game”.

While managing risk and reputation are crucial, they can inadvertently stifle growth, innovation, and creativity. Playing to not lose may seem safe, but it also limits the possibilities for growth personally and at an organisational level.

On the other hand, leaders who play to win embrace a proactive and visionary approach. They understand that taking calculated risks and daring to think outside the box can lead to better outcomes. These leaders find their “inner boss” and enable their teams to push boundaries, encouraging a culture of being at least a little bold, making improvements and being more aware of what really matters to the performance of their organisation and their customers.

A Study from Harvard Business Review:

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found a strong correlation between a playing-to-win mindset and organisational success. The research demonstrated that companies with go-getter type leaders who actively sought opportunities, rather than merely avoiding threats, consistently outperformed their competitors.

The study emphasized that playing to win is not about recklessness or blind ambition. Instead, it entails a strategic and calculated approach, where leaders balance risk-taking with thorough analysis and contingency planning.

By proactively seeking new markets, disruptive technologies, and enabling their people to execute on focussed strategies, leaders who play to win create an environment ripe for growth and long-term success.

So how do senior leaders embrace the Playing-to-Win Mindset?

1. Leadership brand: A playing-to-win mindset starts with authentic senior leaders who have a compelling vision and the ability to communicate it effectively. They know how to build trust within their teams. People know what they stand for. They have a strong and positive leadership brand.

2. Decision making legend Leaders who play to win encourage a growth mindset within their teams and organisations. But what they also do is make decisions and back themselves and their people to execute on the plans.

3. Collaboration: Playing to win requires harnessing the collective intelligence of your people. Winning Leaders create an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are encouraged, fostering collaboration and cross-functional awesomeness.

4. Flexibility: In a rapidly evolving business landscape, the ability to be flexible is essential. Playing-to-win leaders stay ahead of the curve, embracing shifts and pivot with grace and energy.

5. Share the love: If you are adopting a winning mindset, best you recognise and celebrate the wins along the way huh! This not only boosts morale but also reinforces the playing-to-win mindset that you are leading. And if you are playing the long game you need to make sure everyone enjoys the journey.


As senior leaders, it's our responsibility to set the tone for our organisations and empower our people to deliver wins that matter and build better organisations.

By embracing a playing-to-win mindset, we unlock the full potential of ourselves and our organisations and on a good day transform every-day challenges into progress.

It is time to get away from the old school behaviours and embrace a new way of leading.

Remember, success favours the bold and those who dare to try.

Are you playing to win or are you playing to not lose?

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