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Beware of the Got-You Game

Years ago, in graduate school, I learned a very simple leadership lesson, and I learned it in the most peculiar setting: graduate seminars.  No matter how well prepared you were, no matter how fully you reviewed the literature, no matter how elegantly you crunched the numbers, someone else would always find a hole, that subtle little point you missed. Simply, people will work hard to “get-you.”

I learned quickly that in the world there is a tendency to play the got-you game.  In fact, part of academic culture has always been about this got-you game.  Think about a thesis defense.  In many ways, this is one big got-you game.  The committee members are always asking questions which direct you to the holes in your argument and the flaws in your analysis, and reminds you of how bright and clever they are and how stupid you are.  Clearly there is a role for the got-you game.  It is a mechanism to assure quality.  It is a mechanism to assure evaluation.

Sometimes, it can go a bit overboard.  Sometimes people play the got-you game simply for the sake of playing it.  They play the game to not only improve your argument, but to make sure that everyone else watching the game understands their status, their power, and their knowledge.  In this instance, the got-you game becomes grandstanding.

Washington, DC is one big playing field for the got-you game.  Often there is a sense that politicians on both sides of the aisle are busy playing got-you with each other, not realizing that at a certain point the game must stop.  When you play the got-you game too long, it becomes a one-up-manship game, where each party tries to outdo the other for the sake of outdoing them.  This type of one-up-manship will inevitably spin into conflict and resentment.

The got-you game tests your ability to accept and manage criticism. It’s important to realize that the got-you game is just that, a game. Like in any game, don’t take things personally and bring your feeling into it at your own risk. When athletes start losing, when their attacking strategy fails, they often get personal and commit fouls and began to play recklessly. When athletes lose control they often get expelled from the game or lose concentration on the game and they suffer even bigger losses.

It’s important to realize that the way you perceive and play the got-you game can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing. Leaders have to play the got-you game on a daily basis and it’s important to know when your playing and how to play.

Poor leaders make two mistakes.  They don’t anticipate the got-you game, thinking simply that the radiance of their great ideas will carry the day. You must think about the problems and potential criticisms of your agenda–if you don’t you’ll be caught of guarded quickly and your agenda will lose pace. Second, when a bad leader does get into the got-you game, they will seem perplexed, become ego-involved, and get sucked into playing one-up-manship. Failure to anticipate and play the got-you game leads to over-assurance and it obscures ideas and goals.

Good leaders prepare and anticipate for the got-you game, but try to limit it, and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. You have to accept that the got-you game will happen and you will have to come up with answers and polished appeals for any nay-sayers. Don’t let well delivered criticisms distract you–be ready for them. Don’t get suckered into a one-up-manship contest and fight dramatically in order to maintain a little a handful of ego points. Getting personal will damage your plan and it’ll absorb your time and energy.

Leadership is about following through and pushing agendas and ideas froward. The got-you game often stands between your agenda and its implementation. If you prepare for criticisms and you don’t let arguments get personal you can successfully avoid the crueler traps of the got-you game.



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