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Seven Ways to Play a Bigger Game This Year

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In fifteen years of coaching high potential and senior leaders, I’ve conducted thousands of hours of colleague feedback interviews. One of the themes that I hear a lot from senior executives talking about high potential leaders is that the client needs to play a bigger game. What the executives mean by that is that the high potential needs to start making an impact beyond their immediate function and start acting as a leader of the entire organization and not just their function.

With the performance reviews and goal setting sessions that come at the beginning of the year, now is a great time to think about how you can play a bigger game this year – the kind of game that really changes things and makes a big difference.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve asked around three dozen high potential leaders to answer the question, “What’s the one thing you need to do to play a bigger game this year?”  I’ve boiled their answers down to seven ways to play a bigger game. If you’re ready to play a bigger game, you’ll want to take a look.

1. Take the risk:  My observation, which just about all of my clients agree with, is that most leaders overestimate the risk and underestimate the rewards of taking the initiative or saying what needs to be said.  To play a bigger game, take the risk.

2. Prioritize:  An effective strategy is probably more about what you’re not going to do than what you’re going to do.  To play a bigger game, you need to pick your spots.  Prioritize.

3. Collaborate: In the bigger game, 1+1 = 3.  To get bigger results, you have to work and play well with others.  Proactively reach out to people of different interests. Seek input from a broader group.  Collaborate.

4. Fight the legacy – If you’re organization is stuck in a rut, a bigger game can look like fighting the legacy of the way you’ve always done things.  The bigger game here is leading an energetic shift from “not possible” to “possible.”

5. Customer focused creativity – Customer expectations get higher every year and can change at light speed.  Part of the bigger game is to lead creative efforts that are focused on the customer experience.

6. Move faster – A big component of your bigger game may be encouraging others to move faster.  Small experiments, shorter decision cycles, being clear about when it needs to be perfect and when good enough is good enough are all components of playing a faster, bigger game.

7. Show up everyday willing to be fired – There’s an iconic scene from the movieRisky Business in which an instigating friend counsels the protagonist, Joel that “Sometimes you just gotta’ say, ‘What the ****.’ Because saying ‘What the ****,’ gives you freedom.  And freedom gives you opportunity and opportunity is your future, Joel.” The freedom to do what you need to do to play the biggest possible game only comes if you’re willing to be fired and believe that if it doesn’t work out here, it will work out somewhere else.

One other important point in addition to these different ideas on how to play a bigger game is that you still have to nail the basic expectations of whatever role you’re in.  That’s the price of admission to play a bigger game.

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Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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