You’ve heard it before “Defense wins championships.” Well, technically this isn’t true. I recently read an article about a classic state basketball championship from the 1940s. The final score was 2-0. The team that won this championship didn’t have the best defense, they had the best offense.

The truth is, the best offense is the best offense.

In most sports (the ones that make the most sense to me anyway) the team with the most points at the end of the game wins. This doesn’t mean that defense isn’t important. It is. It simply means if your strategy is to not lose, you just might.

I’m sure you have observed sports teams where the key strategy is not to lose. It’s painful to watch and many times doesn’t work. When I was in high school, my football team had a “prevent” defense. At the end of a game if we were winning and wanted to make sure we didn’t lose, our prevent defense actually allowed for big gains, easy first downs and in several cases it prevented alright. It prevented us from winning.

The psychological phenomenon of playing not to lose is a real thing. It is prevalent everywhere you look. Somewhere in life, people with this mentality decided that they are incapable of wining and lowered their expectations to merely not coming in last.

As a leader, are you playing to win or playing not to lose? Evaluate the way you hire (or fire) team members, examine your individual and team decision-making processes, review your budgeting process, and be honest about your willingness to challenge the status quo. When you look at your aptitude and experience in these areas, you might find out which of the two strategies you most often lead from.

Margie Warrell, author of the book Stop Playing Safe, says “While playing safe may feel safe in the short term, we can get left behind as the world around us marches steadily forward. When you are playing to win, your energy is channeled into creating new opportunities, breaking new ground, and going after what you want to make happen. It requires putting what you already have at risk for the sake of something bigger, something better. It’s about trading the safety of the known for the uncertainty of a future that is yet to be created. It takes courage because it involves risk.”

Not for sure if you are playing to win or playing not to lose? Consider the following:

Playing to Win:                                                                          Playing not to lose:
Loves to win Afraid of losing
Focus on maximizing strengths (self & others) Focus on eliminating weaknesses (self & others)
Finishes their work, even if it’s not perfect Leaves work undone so it can’t be judged as insufficient
Works quickly & effectively Works slowly, deliberately and cautiously
Takes calculated risks Plays it safe
Decides Deliberates
Waits patiently to hire the best candidate and not afraid to be understaffed Hires the “least bad” candidate and worries about being understaffed
Doesn’t make excuses Quick to blame others
Considers opportunities and brainstorms Choses the safe route and avoids options
Learns from the past and is optimistic about the future Worried about the past and stressed about the future
Motivated to make things better every day Dejected when things don’t go right

Play to win and not to not lose. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to your team, and you owe it to your future.

Lead often, lead well and LEAD STRONG.