Leadership is not about Competition

Balloon Stomp Game

I believe an influential leader does his or her best to make sure all members of the team win. It’s not about “winning.” It is about cooperation and collaboration.

Effective Leadership inspires Teamwork!

Leadership is not about competition. There is a popular acronym: TEAMTogether Everyone Achieves More. But beyond that, even if the ultimate goal is not achieved, there is still the spirit of “winning” in terms of honest, concentrated, focused effort. Let me share with you a true story called “Balloon Stomp.”

Balloon Stomp

This is about two 4th grade classes. The game is called Balloon Stomp. Each child has a balloon tied to his or her leg. The goal is to try to pop everybody else’s balloon while protecting their own. The last child with an intact balloon is the winner.

Such a game is a zero-sum game. If I win, you lose. Anyone else’ successes diminish my chances. I must regard everyone else as someone to overcome, someone to be pitted against. Wouldn’t you agree that this is NOT the leadership style we want to be subjected to?

Balloon Stomp Competition Style

The first class dived into the game with vigor. Balloons were relentlessly targeted and destroyed. Some children pretended to enjoy it but secretly didn’t want to lose. Others were shy and hung away on the sidelines. But that didn’t help them. Their balloons were stomped anyway. Only one balloon is left, and of course, its cheering owner is the most (secretly) disliked kid in the room. It’s hard to really win at Balloon Stomp competition style.

Balloon Stomp Cooperation Style

On the other hand, there is a Balloon Stomp cooperation style. The second class to play the same game is a class of developmentally challenged children. They receive the same instructions but too quickly. The only idea that registers is to pop the balloons.

The game proceeds, but with quite a different spirit. Instead of fighting each other to pop balloons, these children help one another to pop balloons. Kind of a “balloon stomp co-op.” One boy, frustrated because a ballon wouldn’t hold still enough for him to pop it, is aided by the little girl to whom the balloon is tied. She kneels down and holds her balloon carefully in place while the little boy stomps it flat. Big smile. Then he kneels down and holds his balloon so she can stomp on his. On and on it goes. All the children helping one another stomp ballons. When the very last balloon popped every one cheered. Why? Everybody won.

Leadership is not a Competition

In examining the two games we see that in the second game, the students didn’t score points against each other, but with each other. Kids who saw their classmates as opponents in the first game became teammates in the second one. Kids who looked like losers in the first game became winners in the second one.

In summary, I think the worthy goal of all leaders is to embrace the spirit of accomplishing a goal as the second class did – no one loses. Everyone wins in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Teamwork.

Below is an edited video of my talk about Balloon Stomp given at a Toastmasters meeting in 2013.

Linnaea Talks about Leadership Stomp
Linnaea’s talk “Leadership Stomp.”