Are You “Playing Not To Lose”?

“If we can just survive this quarter without losing money, we’ll be golden.” “I’ll be happy if we can just make it through this conference.” “What can we do to make sure we don’t lose our best client this year?”

Although intended to preserve your organization, statements like these will almost certainly lead to failure or average results at best. In a recent coaching session with one of my clients, we addressed this very subject. He leads a progressive urban elementary school. As you can imagine, he faces his fair share of challenges.

What is his big goal? “If we can just get enough of our students to pass the state tests, we can stay open.” Sounds honorable and reasonable enough. I dug deeper. I asked him what would happen if the school closed. “Our teachers would be unemployed and our kids wouldn’t have a fair shot at a good education.”

Although it was a worthy goal to pursue, he was, “playing not to lose.” If he reached his goal, the best possible result was to stay open. We began to talk about what “playing to win,” could look like. What if your school set it’s sights on becoming “the model” for urban schools? What if every decision the staff made was based on that filter? What would the most effective school in this city do in this situation? How would that change the way teachers prepared? How would it change the way students believe in themselves?

What about you, leaders? Are you playing “not to lose.” When “not losing” is your goal, your results will be average at best. Strive to be excellent, to be the best at what you do. Play to win!

Let’s talk about what “playing to win” looks like in your life or business. Email me at

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