Change the Game, and the Game Changes You


The sports arena is not the only place game-changing plays are made. We make them in business deals, in our career, in relationships, through innovations, strategic visions, and more. In the non-profit world, lives are dedicated to “changing the game” in areas that need it most.

As an executive coach, I coach leaders who want to “change the game”. However, what I have learned is while many leaders are concerned about how to change the game, more often, it is the game that changes them. I suggest all game-changing plays start with asking the questions:

“What game am I already playing?”, and

“How is my current game shaping the way I show up and the actions I take?”

An everyday example: when in the heat of an argument with a relative, partner, colleague, or customer service agent , what “game” are you playing? Is it a game of being right? Of making the other wrong? A game to prove yourself, your intellect or your hardship? Getting credit or preventing others from getting credit? Of being admired? Being better?

What agenda is driving this game? How is this game shaping you? Are you rigid? Opportunistic? Controlling? Withdrawn? Are you open for new ways of seeing the situation? Certainly a game of curiosity and innovation would change both the field and the players.

When we identify the game we are playing, we can go even further to ask ourselves questions like, “what are the rules of this game?”, “how am I keeping score?” “Is this game serving the person I am committed to being?” “Where did I learn to play this game?” “Where else do I play this game?”

Such questions can begin to illuminate what is running us in the background. Only when we see the game we are already playing, can we choose to create a different game. This is an important capacity both in our personal lives and as a global leader in a time of accelerating complexity and change.

Change the game, and the game changes you.

Working with a hospice company, we discovered they were playing the game of “beating out the competition”. Only 1 in 5 people choose hospice care at end of life — so the game was to get the 1 in 5 to sign up with their service over the competitor. Their entire strategy was to win this game. When they realized this game kept them small and limited, they changed the game to “Americans die with dignity, freedom and choice”. This game changed their strategy to expand the category — to make hospice care the default option. This was a different scoreboard and it changed them in profound ways.

Games that make a lasting positive difference incorporate acceptance, care, service and accountability.

Acceptance: what we can’t accept will hold us hostage and confine our creative space. Acceptance is not tolerance. It is simply acknowledging what is so and what is not. There is great power available to anyone who can come face to face with the facts and put aside all stories, explanations, justifications and reasons.

Care: Charles Feltman defines care as having another’s interests in mind when taking actions and making decisions. Effective leaders have in mind the fundamental concerns and commitments of all relevant parties — what really matters to them at the end of the day. This does not mean you must cater or kowtow to these concerns; rather, have them in mind as you create and play the game.

Service: Service implies something bigger than oneself. Notice the difference in the way you show up when you play a game of self-promotion (or even self-degradation) or a game of service. Move from “my vision” or “my commitment” like some kind of possession, to the “vision I am serving”, or “the commitment I serve” and watch the way it changes you.

Accountability: Being accountable means you are owner and creator of any game you play regardless of “who started it”. Being accountable is not a report on who is to blame or credit; rather, it is a state of being independent of assigned tasks. We each have the choice to be a victim of the current state, or a positive and disruptive force in that state.

If we design our games out of these four components, we will be changed in significant and powerful ways.

As a leader, what game will you create that is worthy of the person you have become in life? What could you gain by allowing such a game to change you?