The book that has been generating lots of buzz this year is Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game that has been recommended to me by so many that finally now I got it.
I have only read the first chapter but already I can see clear linkages between how Simon describes finite vs. infinite leaders and how these two mindsets are crucial to understand if we are to analyse properly organisational leadership.
In fact, this book has made me think already in new ways in a range of areas ranging from careers to climate negotiations to family priorities to pretty much everything.
Finite and Infinite Leaders
In his book, Simon Sinek notes that the single most predictable factor in a company’s success is whether the leader has a finite or infinite mindset.
Leaders with finite mindset are solely focused on beating the competition, no matter what it takes, hold a short-term view of increasing profits before anything else, stick to their convictions no matter the evidence, and are ego-driven on the expense of anyone else.
Such leaders cannot vision a long-term future but are constrained by their egoism in defining the future as the next 3-5 years as they are at the helm of the company.
Nothing else matters except winning, filling up personal coffers, and being important.
In contrast, infinite leaders are in the game for generations; their vision is to leave the organisation in a much better shape than they found it so that it stands challenges and adjusts to changing operational and strategic contexts.
Infinite leaders see their employees and shareholders as the boss in so far that the leader’s role is to serve these people first, and make sure that there is an established legacy of increased wellbeing even after they leave.
The Infinite Game is what these leaders play for:
“In the Infinite Game, the true value of an organisation cannot be measured by the success it has achieved base on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organisation is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organisation’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure” (p. 9)
Perhaps the easiest way to describe the difference between the finite and infinite leaders is this: finite mindset leaders play just to win no matter what whereas infinite mindset leaders play to advance a cause that is greater than simply selling more products.
Expanding your mind towards infinite
So what are some of the takeaways that we can take from this distinction and how could this apply to the way you lead and your career choices?
For me, some immediate thoughts relate to for example career opportunities: some actions and options will advance the calling I feel I have in life (to make climate adaptation into everyday leadership); a calling that is far beyond me but where I believe I can make an impact.
The questions you can be asking is: does this action/strategy/option lead to greater impact and contribute to my higher level calling (my infinite game) or is it based on someone else’s plan/strategy that is part of a finite game?
Just by asking this kind of a question can help you to make a distinction whether the opportunity offered is in fact part of a finite vs. infinite game, and from then on, it is much easier to make a choice what your involvement or next step should be.
Having this kind of a yardstick to evaluate opportunities is invaluable because it keeps you grounded but also gives you a wholly different mindset into how you make decisions and what those decisions contribute to.
And for most of us, what is an infinite game is where our passion lies, and in some cases just by understanding which processes and games are truly infinite, we can continue making choices that support both our calling but also expand the way we deal with challenges and opportunities.
The need for infinite leadership in Australia
Especially in the last few weeks, the need for infinite leadership in Australia has become even more apparent given the ranging unprecedented bushfires that are destroying homes across several states.
I have to say that in the last few weeks I have been horrified by the political response in Australia as most other countries are standing by and watching how policy nightmares are translating into national inaction even when faced with catastrophic conditions.
The questions we should be asking relate to national capacity and policy direction, and if Twitter is anything to go by, there is a growing anger, despair and disbelief across the country in why, even when we have known for years that climate change is about to make conditions worse in Australia, still there has been little action.
The Federal government invested 50 million dollars into the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and increased massively the capacity of Australian organisations to produce robust climate adaptation knowledge, train practitioners, and make that knowledge policy relevant.
For example, NCCARF had an Emergency Management Research Network that produced a number of studies regarding increasing bushfire risks for Australia, discussed practical adaptation options how agencies, communities and individuals could prepare for a changed future, and did a number of publications, policy briefs, and interactive workshops in disseminating this knowledge.
We have been well aware of the risks of climate change, of changing conditions across Australia, that have all signalled that changes in strategies, policies and even investments are needed.
There are a number of infinite leaders in Australia and globally who see the urgency, understand the science, and are determined to make a difference in how we are currently responding to ongoing events and planning for the future.
They see how climate action and strategic choices in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change are truly a part of an infinite game where we are making choices that are impacting generations to come.
Now, more than ever, we need Infinite Leadership that can embed a beyond-generations view into our policies, strategies, and the way we lead.
And that leadership starts with ourselves, not with “them” or “the others” but in the way we ourselves play our parts in the infinite game we are all in.