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Three Paradigms to Examine (Part 2): Your Winning Strategy

first 100 days / career leadership: developing others/building teams

This is the second in a series of articles about the inner paradigms that shape how we...see, navigate, make sense of, and carve our success...in the world. 

If "what got you here, won't get you there" is true, making fundamental changes to how you lead is going to require you to do more than rearrange the behavioral furniture. You need to hold he unconscious paradigms driving you up to the light.

The three paradigms worth examining are:

  1. What's the motivation/drive that gets you out of bed in the morning?
  2. What has been your "Winning Strategy?"
  3. How do you think about the causes and meaning of outcomes in your life?

In Part 1, I outlined different types of deep motivations that might be driving you out of bed. I suggested some inquiries to help you reflect on whether the deep motivation that got you here needs to change for the new situation you are in.

In this article, I will discuss Winning Strategies.  This article draws heavily on the brilliant work of Tracy Goss

But I hope you can also see why actions you are taking to secure the psychological outcomes you need might be attractive to an employer and get you promoted. 

What is a Winning Strategy?

It is a lifelong unconscious strategy for achieving psychological outcomes important to you.  It is likely the core component of the success you have achieved.

Before delving deeper into what they are and where they came from here are some examples:

  • Listen for what's broken...volunteer to fix it...so as to avoid feeling out of control.
  • Listen for whom is being recognized the most in the group... increase my efforts...so that I am viewed as the most valuable on the team.
  • Listen for openings and a need...organize everyone and everything...so I am central and can't be excluded.
  • Listen for emotional tension...defuse any conflicts...so no one, especially me, experiences uncomfortable feelings.
  • Listen for indications I am not the center of attention...be funny, charming, smart _______ [fill in the blank]...to get love and acceptance.
  • Listen for delays or problems..."take over" and do it myself...to avoid being wrong and blamed.
  • Listen for risk/uncertainty...do the (conventional) right thing...to decrease chances of failing.

Some of these strategies might look like they are all about your psychology and personal outcomes…decrease chances of failing, make sure I can't be excluded, avoid uncomfortable feelings, etc. 

And it's true, they are. Winning Strategies have a lot to do with keeping your particular ship afloat and seaworthy.

But I hope you can also see why actions you are taking to secure the psychological outcomes you need might be attractive to an employer and get you promoted. "Organize everyone and everything," "increase my effort so I am viewed as the most valuable on the team," "listen for what is broken and volunteer to fix it," and "diffuse conflicts" are often highly desirable actions in organizations.  A recent opinion piece in the NYTimes made painfully clear how true this is.

Ray Romano said "I don't know any comedians on stage who don't have issues with their Fathers.  Even me.  I am probably one or two hugs away from being an accountant."

How Did My Winning Strategy Develop?

Early in life, you start testing different approaches to getting your needs met and acquiring "power,"  however you define it. Based on what works and what doesn't, a Winning Strategy gets hammered out by how the environment around you responds.

Other forces also influence this Winning Strategy:

  • Your genetic abilities and characteristics shape it. 
  • What you got praised for and what you got "punished" for...by parents, coaches, teachers, peers, bosses...shapes it.
  • Your "trauma" history shapes it.  The NYTimes opinion piece referenced previously makes this trauma/winning connection clear.  The wildly successful comedian Ray Romano had a more humorous take.  He said "I don't know any comedians on stage who don't have issues with their Fathers.  Even me.  I am probably one or two hugs away from being an accountant."  He is implying that being funny was his way to be seen, get love, and feel worthy. 
  • Your peer 'influencers,' role models, and childhood heroes you looked up to had a unique kind of power you admired.  Could you be valedictorian?  Football star? Play guitar? Lead the cool kids? Start a business? You decided quickly whether that was possible for you or not.   If not, you focused on what you could win at, in part as a compensation for what appeared to be impossible. 

And in whatever sandbox you decided you could succeed in, your strategy starts to get traction and helps you accumulate rewards, power, position, contacts, status, and influence.  It also shapes what safety and threat look like and how you respond to bring the situation back to equilibrium. 

Your winning strategy starts shaping what you notice and what you don't.  It is the force behind actions you choose.  It is exerting it's influence whether you are aware of how it is operating or not.

Your winning strategy becomes self-reinforcing. You choose the chessboard you can win on. Your strategy starts to win on that chessboard...you get little hits of gratification, you achieve success, and gain status however you define it. 

This momentum leads you to start to listen and look for places and opportunities to put that winning strategy into action where you think you can win while avoiding situations and challenges that look impossible to you. 

Hold this thought because this is a critical puzzle piece to when and how your winning strategy will fail you.

This momentum leads you to start to listen and look for places and opportunities to put that winning strategy into action where you think you can win while avoiding situations and challenges that look impossible to you. 

What Your Winning Strategy is Not

It is not your personality.  Not your "type" from whatever typing system is the current rage among coaches filling time in their courses. 

It is not your astronomical sign.  Not your leadership style.  There are not 4 of them or 9 or 16.  You can't get a list of winning strategies and pick yours out like a puppy from the pound. 

And it most assuredly is not something you are born with.  It can't be.  It’s empirically derived: had it not succeeded at whatever you pointed it at, it would not be a winning approach.

When you find yourself judging someone else negatively, what are they doing and how are they living? Since what they are doing is "wrong," your "right" actions might be clues to your winning strategy.

Ways to Identify a Winning Strategy

Your strategy is likely unconscious.  You have to do the work and reflect deeply on what you do over and over again to get power and control and safety and achieve success in whatever realm you decided in Part 1 to play in.

You probably gathered from the previous examples, a winning strategy has three parts to it: Attention, Actions, and Outcomes.

Here are some useful questions for each part:

Attention:  What do you listen for?  To what do you find your attention drawn?  What would you hear that would cause you to "move into action?"  What would be indications something was "wrong" or that you were needed or you were losing control?

Actions: From what actions do you expect to get power, be rewarded, feel good about yourself?  When you notice yourself “mobilize into action,” what kinds of actions are you taking? What actions, when you are doing them, make you feel like you are "doing it right," and "living life correctly?"

In 360 reviews you've had done, what actions of yours are so common they are seen and acknowledged by almost everyone?

Finally, when you find yourself judging someone else negatively, what are they doing and how are they living?  Are they not helping? Having too much fun?  Too long-winded?  Too combative?  Since what they are doing is "wrong," your "right" actions might be clues to your winning strategy.

Outcomes: What does feeling fulfilled look like?  What is the nightmare or discomfort you work hard to avoid?  If your life turns out as you want it, what happens? What makes you feel in control? 

If you left a job or situation, what was it you weren't getting, what outcome couldn't you achieve there?

Another rich vein of clues can come from unwanted conditions that persist in your life.  The outcome you get from applying your winning strategy has an obvious payoff.  Getting this payoff from your winning strategy may be worth more to you than getting rid of the unwanted conditions.  What is the payoff from your winning strategy?

Finally, Ms Goss offers a great hypothetical scenario to help you zero in on the outcome part of your winning strategy.  Imagine you were chosen to fill in at a conference for an important speaker who fell ill.  It is only a five minute speech but you will represent your entire industry to a global audience and it needs to be good. 

What is the first thing you do?  Call important people who will be in the audience to find out what they want to hear to get approval? Go get data to give you credibility? Get a haircut to look good? Try to find funny stories or anecdotes to make sure you are memorable? Find quotes from a range of experts so you don't have to risk putting your views out there?

There is not a right answer to this hypothetical scenario.  Just clues that might point you towards the outcomes your winning strategy solves for.

If this is the case and the 'there' you are reaching for is a real stretch for you, your winning strategy will likely fail you. 
Wait. It's a Winning Strategy. What's the Problem?

The truth is there might not be a problem, because you're right, it has been a big part of the success you have achieved.

And, if you continue to pursue that which you consider possible…if you continue do the same type of job or take on the same basic challenges…then continuing to apply your winning strategy might absolutely be the right thing to do.

But remember, we are unpacking the trope "what got you here, won't get you there." 

The assumption is that the "there" you are trying to get to is a big stretch.  It is something different than what you have done.  It might even be outside the realm of what you currently think is possible, but you are going for it anyway because the potential payoff is important to you or your family or maybe just because you have decided it’s a worthy pursuit.

If this is the case and the 'there' you are reaching for is a real stretch for you, your winning strategy will likely fail you. 

Why?  Because what you listen for is limited.  And what mobilizes you is limited. You're playing the limited game that you decided long ago you could win at.

Moreover, you are solving for narrow, personal outcomes, rather than focusing on the impossible outcome that needs to happen in this new position...focusing on maintaining equilibrium and applying short-term salve to lifelong wounds rather than on learning and adapting your actions solely in response to whether those actions are moving you closer to the reality you want to create.

What is the point is to track and uncover your winning strategy so you can own it, instead of it owning you.

How This Helps You Get 'There'

What is not the point here is to try to change horses by looking for a new winning strategy.  One is no better than another. 

Another coaching chestnut is that “your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”  Thus, substituting one winning strategy for another will just bring a different set of limitations.

What is the point is to track and uncover your winning strategy so you can own it, instead of it owning you.  So you can recognize when it is operating.  So you can continue to use it when that is the approach that will drive the best outcomes, not just for you and your psychology, but for all stakeholders. 

And so you can put it down and step outside it when it is getting in the way, not moving you towards what you consider impossible, not bringing the future you have envisioned into graphic relief.

 

Part 3 will start to look at the final unconscious paradigm: how you think about what causes the outcomes in your life…the “good” ones and the “bad” ones…and in Part 4 we will look at the meaning you ascribe to those outcomes.

Dennis Adsit, Ph.D. is the President of Adsum Insights and designer of The First 100 Days and Beyond, a consulting service for leaders in transition who need to get off to the best possible start in their new jobs.