Lead with an Infinite Mindset

Some men fish all their lives without knowing it is not really the fish they are after.  ~Henry David Thoreau

An infinite mindset?

Leading with bold grace requires someone to lead with a higher purpose. As I stated in my last post, a higher purpose reflects something aspirational. It explains how the people involved with an organization are making a difference, it gives them a sense of meaning.

James Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games said, “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

I’d like to add to the notion that having a higher purpose reflects something aspirational; I believe it is also a mindset. I’ll use James Carse’s analogy of a finite versus infinite game. A finite game is for the purpose of winning. An infinite game is for the purpose of continuing the play. Imagine a leader with the mindset of finding ways to continue the play versus winning.

Infinite Mindset Example

It’s not unusual for me to meet with a group of leaders—whether they are organizational leaders or a group of board members—and for someone to make a statement like, “What are we trying to win? Everyone is motivated by winning.” Well, not necessarily.

First, not everyone is motivated by winning. For certain personality types this is absolutely true, but for others, it is simply not the case. Second, one of the down sides of winning is that it has an endpoint. Once that endpoint is achieved you have to keep moving the goalpost down the field to keep winning. And for there to be a winner, there must also be a loser.  

If a leader has the mindset of playing an infinite game, then the purpose is to keep the play going, not to win. And, finding ways to keep the play going is the mindset of higher purpose.

An Infinite Mindset

Sometimes it can be fine line between having the mindset of a finite versus an infinite game. For example, a leader may have the goal for their organization to be named a “best place to work” by a specific association or publication. Organizations who are named, “win” and those who are not, “lose.” It has an endpoint; it’s finite. While an infinite mindset might focus on offering stable employment for individuals in the region that provides both a living wage and flexibility to help families thrive. That’s infinite. The goal does not have an endpoint; the goal it is to keep it going for as long as possible.

Yes, that example is a fine line. But it’s easy to cross that line and suddenly find ourselves knee-deep in finite games, competing, looking for ways to win. Before we know it, we realize that we’ve been fishing all our lives (i.e., trying to win) without knowing that it is not really the fish we are after. But something more.

Lead with bold grace; lead with higher purpose through an infinite mindset.   

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