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  • John R. Durant

Keeping Score In The Wrong Game

Sometimes we feel that we're competing with those whose help we need. If you are tallying W's and L's against those who should be your allies, you're playing the wrong game.

Business is fundamentally competitive. People unite under a single banner to win a bid, conquer a market, and defeat rivals. It is axiomatic that this premise and the general process of selection means that, over time, we all filter into roles that optimally draw upon our varying degrees of competitive instinct. As a company, we keep score against those contending for our business as we struggle to survive and hopefully thrive. But sometimes we keep score against those whose help we need. We maintain a mental tally of W’s and L’s as it relates to coworkers and people who should be our allies. If you are keeping that kind of score, you’re playing the wrong game.

Keeping Score In The Wrong Game

The false choice

Know this: I’m not sitting in judgment of those whose competitive nature may have gotten the best of them, because on a couple of occasions, I’ve played this game. I never went to extremes, but for a variety of reasons, I allowed myself to see some people less as collaborators and more as challengers. Looking back, I see how it hurt the team and detracted from our mission. While I could justify this by pointing to examples that confirmed my internal narrative, the truth is, at a few key moments, I allowed myself to buy into the false choice of “Us vs. Them.” But fortunately, I saw through the false choice and found a better way.

What to do?

No matter what, you have to get to the bottom of why you felt the urge to keep score at all. Is there something going on that you resent? Did someone cross a boundary, and you feel threatened or unsettled? Are you getting signals that, for one or more reasons, you’re simply not the right fit for the mission, the culture, or the moment? This is hard work, and it can (and probably should) be uncomfortable. But, unless you are mysteriously pathological, there are identifiable reasons that are drawing you away from collaborating with others toward contending with them.

Once you have identified what is at the heart of your score-keeping, you can do something about it. You have to do something about it. I recommend finding someone you trust who can provide mentorship and advice. In my case, while I had lost the desire to keep score before meeting Mark Nevins, he helped me continue to evolve my thinking. In our many conversations, he has dispensed a great deal of wisdom that served me well in subsequent roles (please read What Happens Now? which he co-wrote with John Hillen). The point is, we all need help. Finding someone who has the experience, insight, and wisdom to advise you as you change your behavior is essential.

The way forward

It’s important that we acknowledge that it is entirely possible that there are peers, subordinates, and others who are making life difficult for you. There are some who may even mean you harm. Bullies do not become benevolent just because they’re too old for the schoolyard! But I encourage you to start from the premise that there are fewer of them than you may think and that most of the people you hold in suspicion simply don’t deserve it. Is there a chance you’ll misplace your trust at times? Is it possible that your authentic efforts to be vulnerable will backfire? Yes! But if in your sincere determination to connect, cooperate, and collaborate you end up with egg on your face, wear those huevos rancheros with pride! It will make you a stronger team player in the long run. If you can relate to this, please share your story with me.


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