Impact Leadership Conference hosted over 3,300 Birmingham business leaders where they learned from a few of the nation's top leadership experts. One of the speakers, Simon Sinek, posed an interesting concept of viewing our work not as a finite game, but as an infinite one. A finite game has known players, fixed rules, and a set objective with an end. An infinite game has known, and unknown players, unfixed rules, and the aim is to perpetuate the game. The problem we face in the workplace today is that too many leaders don't understand the game they are playing. Many of our organizational leaders are playing with a finite mindset in a game that does not end. Their goal is to outperform their top competition, whereas, in the infinite game, there are no opponents. The only true competitor is yourself. Simon shared how the ability to adopt an infinite mindset is a prerequisite for any leader who aspires to leave their organization in better shape than they found it. He detailed five practical steps on how to switch to an infinite framework.
1. Advance a just cause
To have an infinite mindset, you must be working to advance a just cause. A just cause is an idealized state of the future that for purposes we will never reach, but we will die trying — and that is the point. A just cause is a cause, so just that leaders will be willing to sacrifice to achieve it. Leaders must develop or identify a vision worth pursuing whole-heartedly. Leaders must grasp the "why" behind every move they make. Are you going to work to make a specific salary? This would be finite thinking. Or are you going to work to make a difference in the world around you? This would be infinite thinking. Simon argues that the "why" for impactful leaders should be to advance a just cause and to make sure the just cause is bigger than yourself.
2. Building trusting teams
If the goal of leadership is to advance the just cause, then we must build a team to help us advance this mission. Leaders are not responsible for results. They are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. So how do we create an environment in which our people can work at their natural best? The leadership environment controls the atmosphere and performance. How you treat people will directly impact how they perform and, in turn, treat you. Your business shouldn't operate in a culture where employees fear doing the wrong thing more than wanting to do the right thing. If you're going to be a leader, it comes at a personal sacrifice. Leaders don't take days off. The responsibility of leadership is to see those around us rise, and this begins by cultivating an atmosphere of trust.
3. Study your worthy rivals
In the finite game, we have competitors. In the infinite game, we have rivals, and some of them are worthy of comparison. The goal is not to beat them; it is to study them because they will help reveal your weaknesses. When one of your rivals experiences success, don't get jealous. Instead, ask yourself, "What is it about them that makes me uncomfortable?" Their success will reveal your weaknesses and insecurities. If you quit your game, disqualification occurs. If you refuse to compete, elimination happens. You can't back down. You must turn their success on yourself. You are your only opponent. When you have an infinite mindset, your rival's success can become one of your greatest tools for growth.
4. Have capacity for existential flexibility
To win the infinite game, you must have what is known as existential flexibility - a willingness to make a profound strategic shift. When you're too preoccupied with defending your current state of being, you're too preoccupied to adapt. Developing a trusting team is key to existential flexibility because if the adjustments made don't pan out as initially expected, you need a team that unquestionably is ready to stand their ground and defend your organization's just cause. You can't have a team that considers abandoning ship every time the waves get a little rough. You have to build an organization that can sustain beyond you.
5. The courage to lead
It is much easier to run a company with a short term mindset than to have a just cause, but that doesn't inspire people. It is much easier to hire and fire people than to build a trusting team. We teach people management not leadership. It takes real courage to stand up and develop your organization in a way that's good for longevity. Courage comes from the outside. It's external, not internal. Think of a skydiver. Where do they get the courage they need to jump from a plane? Is it from within? No, they get the courage they need to jump from the parachute tethered to their back. The same is true for us. We get the courage we need to lead from the lives tethered to our just cause. The courage to lead requires us to take care of each other. It requires a ton of time because it requires us to foster deep, meaningful relationships. We cultivate relationships not for what we gain immediately in return, but because every outcome of our just cause depends on them. These relationships are equitable, not equal. Our lives are finite, but life is infinite. We don't get to choose the rules, or if we want to play, the only choice we get is how we play. We must choose to give, to serve, and to see those around us rise.
We are grateful to Simon Sinek for not only providing our Impact Conference guests with phenomenal wisdom but also supporting the just cause of Highlands College through the Eternal Impact Campaign. This comprehensive initiative will fund a tuition endowment, making it possible for 1,000 young leaders to be trained every year, as well as provide funding to renovate the Grandview Campus, the future home to the college. The Phase I goal is $100 million.
The Eternal Impact Campaign is seeking to fulfill a vision that has never been accomplished. Highlands College is paving the way for a new outlook on higher education, thanks to the support of donors who attended the Impact Leadership Conference.
To learn more about the Eternal Impact campaign, visit highlandscollege.com/eternalimpact.