During my family holiday visits, we play lots of ping pong–a favorite indoor sport of ours. Over many games and tournaments certain players dominate, and a clear trend emerges. The consistent winners use the full ping pong table to their advantage. They keep opponents moving, guessing and reacting to an array of shots in different directions with varying ball speed and spins. Some shots would barely glaze the edge of the table and fall to the floor for a winning point.
Like an inexperienced ping pong player, the uncertain leader plays it safe–hitting a gentle, predictable return to his competitor. During uncertain times (like today) most leaders and business owners play it safe. This means that if you want to distinguish yourself during challenging times, the bar is pretty low.
Now is the time to play the full table. Don’t restrict your strategies to the sure shots. While your competitors are playing it safe, try new shots, explore the edges of the table. Throw something different at your competition to keep them on the defensive–keep them guessing. Don’t necessarily abandon proven strategies, but try putting a new spin on your shot by exploiting a new niche or leveraging an underutilized marketing channel. Increase your exposure in the marketplace and improve your customer service vs. cutting back on both. While everyone is playing in the safe zone, explore cost effective ways to play more aggressively.
Frist, playing the full table means tapping into the variety of skills, knowledge and creativity that your team possesses. Invest in the minds and hearts of your team to yield riches of ideas and commitment. A fully engaged team is the only sustainable competitive advantage … in good times and in bad.
Second, take a new approach by turning traditional mentoring on its head and let your younger team members teach you. Put some new minds on old problems. You have everything to learn and nothing to lose. You will likely expand your repertoire of shots with newfound perspectives, insights and strategies.
The goal of playing it safe is to survive. The goal of playing the full table is to thrive … and win. Let’s play to win!
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