Are You In It to Win It or In It Not to Lose?

By Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych., Leadership Consultant

A thought leader's natural set point is disequilibrium. They seek out ways to challenge current paradigms. One of my clients said it best, "I can benchmark myself against existing strategy and sure I'll do well, or I can create strategy and then break existing paradigms."

The pressure to execute with limited resources, multiple stakeholders and shifting client demands is a challenging feat. This breeds urgency which is largely operationally focused with tight deadlines. One of my clients, a highly respected CEO, states it this way, "We are incented to create short term value. We are compensated at year end based upon our year end performance."

Yet leaders are advised that they must seek to create disruption. Senior leaders often ask me how can they do so when they don't feel they have the opportunity to step back and look at the broader picture. Luxury of time to reflect is a rare commodity. A majority of my clients are in a reactive mode versus being able to truly adopt an innovative mindset.

Despite organizational or external challenges, there is an internal psychological barrier that will keep you from causing disruption. If you compete to maintain your job I would argue that you are in it not to lose. You will be a pleaser, you will follow process and procedures. You will learn how to navigate well. You will be viewed as effective at your job. The safe road will allow you to be regarded as a contributor who excels at keeping the lights on.

What you won't be is a leader with edge, nor a leader who challenges the status quo. Leaders have guts. They take risks. What is remarkable is that these leaders have the ability to start a movement. They do not seek evolution. Evolution is an accumulation of microcosmic shifts, if you really want to spearhead change, this requires a revolution.

An essential ingredient in being bold and brave is emotional stamina. Leaders who have resilience know they have an uphill battle to convince an organization to innovate. Organizations must recognize that they will lose cutting edge talent if they don't take risks.

Aspiring leaders have a vision, which is divergent from the past. We certainly can extrapolate essential learnings from past leaders. Leaders though start movements, they change the status quo, they listen to consumers and they have a vision. Their vision requires followers.

Organizations who cannot or will not support change agents will fall behind. True leaders are relentless and will not give up. They will find a host organization that is prepared to adopt change and will be galvanized by the opportunity to take risks. Ask yourself which bucket you fit into. Leader or manager?

If you are a leader it might be a journey before you land. Organizational culture and executive leadership will dictate whether the climate is right to forge a new path. Once you have sorted this out you still will be faced with opposition and naysayers. This is only natural as most rebel against change.

The singular difference though is you now reside in an organization whose mandate and overall leadership fosters and rewards forward thinking. Innovative contributions propel and advance how current business is done. These are the best host environments to embrace change and create a legacy.

Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at