Can you win a game with no end?

Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, provides another challenge to the status quo for leaders. Always thought-provoking, different, and inspiring, Simon Sinek asks leaders in business a fundamental question: What game are you playing?

Sinek describes how many corporate leaders judge their success based on how they win or lose at the game of business. Sinek though, says that business is not a win-able game because there is no end. He argues that business and service are, in fact, infinite.
Sinek reviews lessons from several successful businesses who are loyal to their “just cause,” a mission statement with a few extra parameters, in order to further prove his point. One example he gives is CVS’ decision to no longer sell cigarettes in their stores as part of their commitment to enriching community health.InfiniteGame

One aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the inclusion of real life examples of how to lead in an infinite game. Sinek features leaders who rally for a cause, instead of simply trying to beat a competing organization. He gives examples of training leaders from the US Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. He discusses the Shell URSA oil rig as an example of a team that needed to establish psychological safety in order to ensure physical and environmental safety. He uses the Four Seasons Las Vegas as an example of an organization where leaders care for the employees, which leads to incredible customer service (Incidentally, this example about an associate named Noah, was my favorite part of the book).

Sinek writes much about the role of a CEO in an organization playing the “Infinite game,” suggesting that the CEO should really function more as a Chief Vision Officer or CVO.

Few authors are able to write with as much strong conviction on leadership topics as Simon Sinek. He is very critical of finite-minded CEOs, which in the book include Jack Welch (Former GE CEO) and Steve Ballmer (Former Microsoft CEO).

But the real magic of Sinek is his ability to illustrate that businesses that practice long-term thinking around a “just cause” benefit both the business itself and the broader community. For example, in the CVS example of ending the sale of cigarettes at their stores, he explained how the company’s stock price went down for only a matter of days, only to shoot back up even higher than it had been performing.

I agree with most of what Simon Sinek writes about and try to put his ideas into my own leadership practice. Whenever I have the opportunity to work with a team, I always stress the need for a clear vision that can be understood across the organization and for psychological safety to develop high-functioning teams. Like Sinek’s other books, this is the next in an excellent series of required reading for modern leaders.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Simon Sinek’s latest book doesn’t disappoint. It illustrates how to lead in an organization pursing a just cause and and infinite mindset. Implementing the ideas should be simple and are imperative for most successful teams.

The Infinite Game is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)

Leading with Vision through Context

In previous posts, I’ve written about my own definition of leadership and the need for vision. However, I have not yet discussed how to actually achieve your vision. In order to achieve your vision, the first thing you must do is to put the daily activities that you undertake with your team into the context of that vision.

I remember having a conversation in the summer of 2010 over sushi (side note –  we were at Momiji, which I highly recommend) with a friend about President Obama’s first term. An enthusiastic democrat and an early supporter of President Obama’s candidacy, he was excited.

He had argued that the President had accomplished more in his first year and a half as President than most others. He cited progress in healthcare reform, environmental stewardship, foreign policy, and others. He could not understand why there was a group of people who didn’t appreciate all of the President’s accomplishments in such a short amount of time.

My answer to him was one word: Context. While, objectively, President Obama had completed many tasks, it was unclear to me, at least, how it was all adding up. The President had surely done a lot, but what vision of our country did it support? Why did he take on these specific initiatives and not others? Were the other problems facing our country not a priority in where our country was going? And if so, why not?

Many of these questions can be answered by explaining them using the vision as context. If, for example, the goal (vision) is to grow your business’ revenue by 10%, then your actions should be explained in that context. The team needs to know that the business is spending more on business development and adding positions in that department in order to try to grow revenue by 10%. In being consistent with communicating decisions in terms of the vision statement, investments in time and money make sense to every member of the team.

My favorite model for this work is Stephen Covey’s “Four Quadrants” (pictured below). Covey uses this model to talk about time management and how to put, “First Things First”. The same principle applies in leadership.

I find that our teams are usually focused on the many tasks that they have to accomplish on a daily basis (what is “urgent”). But, if we are going to build towards our envisioned future, those urgent tasks need to be accomplished with what is “important” in mind.

A colleague of mine shared this TED Talk with me, which illustrates this point using the example of a Phlebotomist interacting with a patient:

Without the important context, most people, in the midst of their busy-ness will complete certain tasks just to finish them or “check the box”. To be intentional, we want to overcome that urge and help them keep all aspects of the task, including its ultimate goal or spirit in mind.

One of the most important roles of a leader is to provide context for all the actions that team members are asked to deliver. If that is done right, not only are consistent and reliable outcomes more likely, but also your team can partner to create your envisioned future.

KEY TAKEAWAY: One of the most important jobs for a leader is to put the daily, “urgent”, actions of team members into the context of the vision statement.


Book Review: Start with Why

Start with Why by Simon Sinek is a personal favorite of mine and should be in every leader’s tool box. I have suggested this book to many other leaders and we reference it often. I have shared the book with the urgent care leadership team and we have read it and discussed it as a group.

If it has not occurred to you yet, the key question you should ask at this point is, well, why?

I’m glad you asked…


The Golden Circle

The main thesis of the book is that the greatest leaders and the greatest companies describe why they do what they do before they describe how they do it and what they do. Sinek calls this model the “Golden Circle” (pictured). He provides many examples and evidence for how this approach has been used by the Wright Brothers, Apple, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The book goes on to explain how the Golden Circle works biologically. Sinek touches on other crucial concepts as well like the diffusion of innovation curve. His argument is compelling and, like in Leader of One, inspires us to go deeper and to take action to define our personal, “Why”.

If you are curious to learn more about the value or starting with why, please watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek:

I cannot tell you how helpful it is to be in a meeting with others who have read this book. I find that the more I get into the details on something, the more I risk, “losing the forest for the trees”. It is very easy to lose the big picture, which Sinek touches on towards the end of the book in the section, “The Biggest Challenge is Success”.

When I am in meetings or environments where everyone has read this book, it creates a needed check and balance when we start to put “what” and “how” over “why”. It always brings a smile to my face when someone speaks up in a discussion to ask, “So why are we doing this?”

The book offers an extremely important tool for teams to use to make sure that they are keeping the mission and vision in mind in daily decision making. In other words, Sinek’s concepts promote keeping the many activities of a complex organization in alignment to the organizations, “why”.

So next time you are in a situation where the group is about to do something because it seems like a good idea, but is really unaligned or outside of the organization’s scope, speak up and ask “Why are we doing this?” or “How is this action going to help us achieve our mission and vision?” Thanks to Sinek, many more of us have the tools to ask these essential questions.

Sinek closes his books with a simple request, “If this book inspired you, please pass it on to someone you want to inspire”. I found that simple ask to be very powerful. I have personally shared Sinek’s books with many.

I would ask you the same: if you find this site helpful and/or inspiring, please share the URL and ideas with others. Thank you.

TAKE-AWAY: Ask, “Why” to make sure that operational decisions are aligned with the mission and vision of the organization. Take the time to find your personal why.

Start with Why is available for purchase on Amazon for *$16

Companion: Find your Why is available for purchase on Amazon for *$20

*Prices do not reflect Amazon prime discount

Sinek offers a free daily email called, “Notes to Inspire”. To sign up, click here.

Defining Leadership

achievement adult agreement arms

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I had an epiphany about a year ago.

I was sitting in a graduate school class called, “Leadership and Human Capital”. Having been through several leadership courses and programs, I knew what was coming. We were about to be challenged to define the amorphous concept of “leadership”. When we were asked to write down how we would define leadership, this time I had a rare moment of clarity.

In this post, I will tell you why I think this was the time where I found a definition of leadership that worked for me and then I will explain my definition.

I was sitting in class mere months after I took over the operations of our urgent care centers. We announced the transition in management from an outsourced partner to in-house management only months before. With so much to do already, the team also had to work fast, navigate a new out-patient environment, and produce results quickly. It was a tall order and one that required a lot of urgent and important work. On a daily basis, I found myself telling the team that we were going to have to, “Build the plane as we are flying it” and many of us could feel the metaphorical breeze and turbulence of an incomplete plane.

Taking you back even further, I had mentioned that I had participated in a number of leadership courses. From high school on, I was involved in several leadership development type programs. I will never forget my favorite one: As an undergraduate at Maryland, I had the good fortune of being accepted into the Rawlings Undergraduate Leadership Fellows program. Rawlings shaped my view of leadership and got me started on an important path of discovery and self-reflection.

The learning in Rawlings was experiential in nature. Professor Michael Speer taught my favorite class in the program. The average age in the class was 20 years old and the class was demographically diverse. When we arrived in the classroom, the desks were arranged in a circle. When class started, Professor Speer said, “My role here is a consultant. I will point out group dynamics as I observe them” and that was all he said. We stared at each other in silence for what felt like hours.

To break the silence, one of my classmates spoke up and said something to the effect of, “What exactly are we supposed to be doing here?”. Almost on queue, Professor Speer says, “It appears the white male in the group is trying to assert dominance”. What do you say after that?

After the initial awkwardness of the activity, we started to really notice and understand how to see unspoken group dynamics that exist among any group of people. Some of these dynamics are societal, some environmental, and some personal. But, I remember my biggest learning coming from that class in understanding that everyone brings something a little different into a group setting. To maximize the effectiveness of the team and build trust, it can be very important to talk about unspoken dynamics.

After graduating from Rawlings, I was fortunate to have many other similar experiences in other leadership programs. I picked up important guidance and tidbits from all of the programs, but it was Rawlings that introduced me to leadership theory, including servant leadership, which is a leadership framework that I believe in wholeheartedly.

In servant leadership, the leader is entrusted by his/her followers and the leader’s role is to help coordinate the group and help the individuals in the group achieve their potential. Servant leadership recognizes that a leader isn’t a leader if they don’t have followers, so the orientation of the theory, articulated by Robert Greenleef, is built around the followers. Simon Sinek builds on this in his book Leaders Eat Last, when he explains how treating employees well is a common denominator of successful businesses with longevity (he uses Costco as an example).

While I had been studying leadership theory and practice for years and had a pretty good sense of what I believed in, I had not managed employees yet in my career. While I had managed consultant relationships, I was going from having half of an employee reporting to me to close to 30. I remember telling my wife Sheryl at the time, “Well, I have been preparing for this opportunity my whole life, we will see if any of what I learned works!”

So, with that as prologue, I took my role as a new entity leader extremely seriously. I spent a lot of time reflecting on some key questions: What kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of leader do my employees need me to be? How do I lead for results while staying true to my values?

Thanks to that reflection and a lot of trial-by-fire experience through the transition, here is how I define leadership:

A leader is defined as someone who has followers. To achieve shared goals, each follower must:

  • Know where we are going
  • Know what their part is in getting us there
  • Want to be a part of it

To fulfill that definition, it requires work to establish a clear and shared vision/direction. It also requires spending time with every person and understanding their goals and to help people get excited about the vision/direction. It also functions to let them know that the leader is serious about it and not just paying it lip service or doing it temporarily.

I intend to lead in this way and believe that have been for the last two years. Merely coming up with a comfortable definition is an important exercise and has served as a helpful guide when making tough decisions. I owe a debt of gratitude to Rawlings and Professor Speer who gave me experiences to think about a reflect on even years later. Thank you.

Key Takeaway

Reflect and define what kind of leader you want to be well before you are in a supervisory role. If you are already in a management role, it is not too late. Ask yourself, “What kind of leader do I want to be?” and find resources that can help you explore different leadership approaches.


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