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Level Up: Playing a Different Game

Are you playing small? Keeping your head down, doing good work? Are you afraid of too much success because it might require even more of you, and your plate is already over-full?

At some point in your career, if you’re fortunate, you’ll be asked to step up and take on greater responsibility. You may have heard the phrase “What got you here, won’t get you there.” It’s the title of a book by master coach, Marshall Goldsmith. It’s good advice.

Here’s another way to think about how you can bring even more value:

As a functional expert, say in finance, engineering, marketing or project management, you are the equivalent of the Chess Master – respected and valued for your skill at doing the work. A Chess Master is acutely aware of each of the pieces on the board, the strategies at play, proven counter-strategies and the preferences and quirks of your opponent. They have an innate sense of the clock – when to move quickly or slowly to push their opponent. They are intimately aware of every element – some in their control, others outside their control. They “score” their value on wins and points. It’s a tremendous accomplishment to play the game at this level.  

If you want to move up in the organization, to have more responsibility and greater impact, you’ll need to reset your mind on how you bring value. 

You can level-up to become a senior leader ––the equivalent of a Tournament Organizer – the one who delivers value by choosing which problems to solve, and which stakeholders to involve. The Tournament Organizer is no longer moving pieces on the board, playing the game. The Tournament Organizer strategizes on which players to invite to the tournament. She’s thinking holistically – when to host this tournament during the season – what tournaments happen before or after this one – what’s manageable travel for global Grand Masters? Who will be the lead sponsors? How will the physical spaces be set up? What accommodations will be made for media and spectators? What obstacles could arise – safety, weather, strikes, illness, etc.?

To be a successful Tournament Organizer in business, you need to strengthen two superpowers – Framing power and Agenda power. Framing power is the use of language to frame problems or situations in a way that influences how people view them. Agenda power is the ability to influence what is or isn’t discussed or acted upon, and the power to include or exclude individuals or groups from the discussion.

Imagine your company announces a new CEO that has a cost-cutting agenda. The functional leader (Chess Master) might limit his focus on running his department, and wait for direction. The senior leader (Tournament Organizer) leverages her awareness of what her new CEO needs and initiates cost-saving activities before she’s asked. But she doesn’t just focus on the task of reducing expenses, she sets an intention to create an atmosphere of trust. She wants to better understand the interplay between teams, and let her stakeholders know she cares about their challenges and limitations. 

Leveraging Framing power, she shares a vision of efficient, frictionless processes that accelerate customer results and company profits. She urges colleagues not to miss the opportunity for employees to gain new, and more valuable skills necessary for success in this new structure. She anticipates objections and, as a realistic optimist, builds a story that acknowledges the challenges inherent in her vision. 

Applying her Agenda power, she establishes a clear agenda for her envisioned changes, gathers the right people, facilitates a discussion including many perspectives, makes a thoughtful decision, and afterward, she informs critical stakeholders of the outcomes. Her proactive approach provides an opportunity for her to be more visible, valued and influential amongst the leadership team.


If you want to step up into the role of senior leadership (Tournament Organizer), you’ll need to shift your mindset about how you bring value. It’s no longer about producing work, or doing the “doing.” The true value you bring at senior levels is navigating a bigger world, driving change, assembling high-performing teams-of-teams, and creating valuable win-win cross-functional relationships. Are you ready to play a different game?

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