Gratitude Unending

The Gratitude Connection

By Donald Officer

When problems arise, performance lags, mistakes are made or unethical decisions are uncovered, Lazy Leadership chooses to put their efforts into building processes to fix the problems rather than building support for their people. – Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game

Sometimes one simple phrase as the cliché goes, “changes everything.” Author Simon Sinek has a gift for finding such phrases then building books – even movements – around them. Many of you will have heard of his first breakthrough title, Start with Why. How many interventions now begin with that powerful challenge? Sinek followed up that book with Leaders Eat Last, Together is Better and Find Your Why. While popular, the latter may not have resounded so loudly nor delivered messages echoing as long after release since purpose is so critical to whatever we undertake. But with the release of The Infinite Game the broader pattern of Sinek’s writing project is revealed.


In The Infinite Game Sinek explains the progressive logic of his books and their sequence. “Why?” is of course the question we should all ask before embarking on anything of importance or significant duration. Time is too important to waste needlessly. So, starting with why probes the past, each person’s past. After a good beginning, “Where next?” you should ask and then determine how to frame the journey. This latest volume addresses that issue, emphasizing the second part of the question for reasons the title embodies. It is about the future. Big time and long term.


If you’re tempted to ask where Simon Sinek’s three intervening subject titles come from, I think it’s fair to say they are about the process: discovering, refining, and putting “why” into action. In short, what’s hopefully happening now.  In this latest work, the big insight Sinek shares about the games we play is that context is crucial. This eureka moment is how infinite play connects to grateful leadership. Whenever you show your colleagues, family, neighbors or friends how grateful you are for who they are, you demonstrate an infinite mindset and play an infinite game.


Game playing on the wide stage of life generally has a bad reputation in respectable society. Most life games are finite with limited scope and clear ends or goals. Making your first million or completing a marathon would qualify if that’s mostly all there is to it. What if, for whatever reason, you succeed? Then what, will you sit down and cry like Alexander when he discovered there were no more worlds to conquer? And if you fail, are you now forever branded as a failure?


How do other people feel when all your conversation is about how well or badly you did at some or other challenge you (or someone else) set for completion? If you are rewarded sporadically you’ve set yourself up for a gambling addiction. Granted a silver spoon or some other privilege welcome to the world of unearned entitlement and all the guilt of shame you can eat. If life is tougher than your temperament can swallow, enjoy the misery of self-selected victimhood. All these are the fruits of finite games. Our youth-oriented, in-the-moment, winners-take-all culture revels in finite short-term thrills and wins in single extravagant “moonshots” or the stuff of fantasy.


These temptations as we well know are omnipresent, subverting everything that should matter and exposing day to day life to all manner of useless stresses, dangers, and potential trauma. Worse yet, like all our hard vices or soft addictions, finite games played within finite mindsets are fundamentally unfulfilling even when we escape their worst possible outcomes. The difference between a finite and an infinite mindset may feel subtle, but it isn’t. If every competition is do or die, if losing face represents shame or despair, if you can’t learn to learn from past missteps nor find meaningful expectation in what lies ahead, above all, if you are unable to share in the successes or opportunities of others, you are trapped in a finite mindset.


Despair can also be the very essence of finitude. Recognize that and you can learn to play an infinite game. An infinite mindset is also contagious as is its opposite. Expect to slip out of worthwhile purpose occasionally but also to climb back into a process you believe in. When you acknowledge another sincerely you step into unlimited space. Grateful leadership is a core component of an infinite mindset validating you are qualified to play in an infinite game.


All leaders face three challenges in their approach to leadership:


  1. To recognize they do not get to choose if any particular game is finite or infinite.
  2. To appreciate they can choose to play or not.
  3. That regardless, they get to pick a finite or an infinite mindset if they choose to play.


There are five practices that mark leaders with an infinite mindset:


  1. The discovery of a Just Cause to believe in
  2. The creation of trusting teams to work with
  3. The choice of a worthy rival to learn from, as opposed to a sworn enemy to despise
  4. The ability to practice existential flexibility as required
  5. The courage to lead as the situation demands


Being a leader with an infinite mindset is not easy and self-compassion for slipping up is essential. Extending compassion and understanding to others is also hugely important. Moving forward and outward, many of our institutions have lost their way promoting short-term finite objectives and abandoning just causes for immediate gains. Grateful leaders in infinite games recognize that will is more important than resources, trust than competence, ethics than tactics, and flexibility in the moment than comprehensive plans. We are passing through difficult times. If we hope to come out whole with our integrity intact, we must learn to play an infinite game.



What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning Senior Vice-President, Judith W. Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment, will help you see the possibilities.