When I was playing a lot of racquetball and had a coach who was a pro, he embedded a truth in me that has made a huge difference ever since—and in nearly every area of my life.
That principle was this: “Always change a losing game plan, never change a winning game plan.” As my friends in the South say, “That’s the dang truth!”
It sounds almost too simple. It also sounds obvious. Why wouldn’t you change a losing game plan? Why would you ever change a winning game plan?
Yet the truth is that both sides of this two-part maxim are often violated. It leads to decline, to loss, and to defeat. Let’s talk about why leaders often blow past this simple set of truths.
The first is distraction. Most leaders live at such breakneck speed and have such overloaded schedules that their attention is kept from what is important. The solution is to make sure you have systems in place to force your attention regularly to what is critical to making smart decisions.
The absence of data is the second factor. If you don’t have systems in place to provide the data you need, then you won’t have a way of knowing if goals are being met, if growth is happening, or if something is blocking progress. Practice the “Three D’s.” Demand Data. Discipline yourself to analyze data. Decide based on data.
Some leaders simply lack the courage to act. They don’t want to admit their previous plan was flawed. They don’t want to face the opposition that might arise to their new plan. They fear action. The only solution here is to face cowardice and drive it off. Then, act!
You might be surprised at how often boredom is a factor in bad leadership. I’ve watched CEOs change winning game plans largely because they were looking for something interesting to do. The solution? Get a dog. Get a hobby. Leadership isn’t meant to provide us with an interesting life. Then, lead wisely, not driven by any single emotion—boredom in particular.
Magical thinking kills great leadership, and it occurs when we don’t lead well but hope that some mystical, invisible force will make everything right. The market will right itself. Someone will fix it. God will intervene. He may, but leading badly assuming God will constantly fix things is Magical Thinking that can kill all you lead.
Much that keeps leaders from changing failed game plans is lack of creativity. They simply can’t envision anything better. In this case, you’ve got to call in reinforcements. Call trusted friends. Open up to the outliers. Reach beyond the usual sources. Creativity will come. Inaction through fear of it not coming kills great leadership.
Finally, hear me on this. Blame is a cancer to your leadership, and it keeps you from innovating. If only the sales folks would do their job. If only manufacturing would send us better products. If we blame, we don’t improve our game, and improving our game is what leadership is all about. Whatever others do badly, don’t let it become an excuse for failure on your part.
Always change a losing game plan. Never change a winning game plan. More soon. I’m proud of you.