We often say that a leader should lead by example, in order to help the team to improve. When we do that, we think of commendable actions and virtues. Great figures such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. leading masses in a relentless fight for social change. A proud and confident Napoleon Bonaparte personally leading his armies from battle to battle. We see a brave Admiral Nelson standing in the midst of cannonball fire, while his flagship rams its way right into the heart of the enemy armadas.
We tend to somehow immediately connect leading by example to these idealistic images, which is more than fine. But there is also another side to leading, which may open up some doors, that the former might struggle with. I wish you all the best, but if you are not essentially a leader of a grand army or nation, which stands solely on your legendary image and reputation, you might want to consider losing. Intentionally.
Playing to lose
Role-playing communities have established a phrase, describing how you can sacrifice the character you play, in order to create drama, which may in turn create an exceptionally awarding experience, for all the players taking part in the scene or context. The normal thing players intuitively do in games, is to try to win. If you’re playing a cowboy in the wild west, you probably want to win the pistol duel at sunset, at all cost. But if the opposing player wants to win too, you will never be able to experience a scene like this. So instead, you play to lose, and experience an epic scene, which you become part of forever. Yes, your character dies, but the experience may be more than worth it.
Although of different nature here, the term still entails sacrificing something on your side, to gain something bigger for all. Also, “playing” hints intent, which serves the purpose. So how can you lead by example, through playing to lose?
Is your team struggling to admit to problems?
Play to lose your immaculate record of success after success. Help your team to improve by showing them, that problems are nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone can accidentally cause one. Present an issue caused by yourself. You don’t have one at hand? Do something bad. The harder it is on you, the better the effect. Make it somewhat spectacular. Then show it exhaustively and provide details. Treat it as something normal. I’m really sorry I messed up. Oh boy, it’s bad. So bad, it’s borderline ridiculous. Cannot believe it – what was I thinking? But yeah, anyway… here’s the repair plan I’m thinking of. So… since we have that out of the way, what’s next?
Maybe they don’t even want to talk?
Play to lose your impeccable image. Expose your own vulnerability. Mention something personal you are struggling with. Admit that there are things you are afraid of. Present a fragile part of your personality and acknowledge its existence. Treat it as something natural. I’m really nervous every time I have to take care of that. I literally sweat and tremble. You remember that day I took a day off? Yeah… But hey, I guess everyone has something, right? You can help the team to improve, by showing them it’s safe to be real. Your team will become more real, if you do so yourself.
Are they failing to reach consensus?
Play to lose against good enough argumentation and the group’s majority. Engage in a discussion important to you, and defend your position fiercely. Then, concede defeat. Publicly admit the relevance of the opposing argumentation. You may even still think yours seems to be more valid, but it’s only your point of view, whilst the other one is actually reasonable enough, and seems to have enough support to become actionable. Show your team, that there is value in intense discussion, followed up by reaching a consensus. Don’t pretend. To be seen as genuine, you need to let go of something that is actually important to you. Great discussion – I really appreciate you challenging my point of view. I have to say I still stand by my arguments, but you convinced me enough, to try it your way.
Try losing to help the team to improve
As a leader, you should be ready to lead by example. When you shield your team from external malice, you most definitely want to be brave and adamant. You need to stand your ground and win. But when you’re building cooperation, a sense of safety and togetherness among people, or when you’re looking to promote honesty, transparency or trust, you might want to intentionally lose. What I’ve learnt from my own leadership experience, is that there is neither any need nor benefit from personally competing with your team. Your personal loss may become your common win. You are only there to guide, help and lift them. Give your team a boost, and be the dead thug from “Once upon a Time in the West”. Then, go watch the movie – it’s going to be great!