The leadership game

The best leaders are often skilled game designers

The leadership game
Photo by Antonio Vivace / Unsplash

So much of the literature on leadership focuses on individual behaviors, individual skills, individual achievement, and individual exceptionalism, but I’m starting to think that the best leaders are often skilled game designers who create predictable relationships between cause and effect throughout their organizations.

Whether leaders know it or not, their performance and behaviors establish a game that everyone begins to learn: a set of rules, incentives, and relationships between action and consequence that defines the physics of how an organization operates. For example, if a leader consistently holds people accountable to their commitments, that cause-and-effect dynamic is encoded into the game as a predictable rule. People respond accordingly.

Effective companies are the product of 1) well-designed games with 2) predictable rules that 3) create positive incentives that 4) translate into healthy behaviors. I’m learning that leaders should focus more on designing predictable, healthy, organization-wide games than on being superhuman individuals inside of them. It’s far more valuable for a leader to be imperfect in a collective, predictable game than it is for them to seek perfection in an arbitrary, unpredictable one.