Why great leaders play the long game

It is almost always a winning strategy for leaders.

Steffan Surdek
November 28, 2022
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As a leader in an organization, there is a big difference between you and me. You will probably be part of your organization’s transformation for a much longer period than I would as an external consultant.

My role when clients hire me to work with them is typically to build capacity in their department or in their organization. When I feel people have enough capacity to sustain the change we are doing, it is time for me to go.

In order to thrive, leaders need to be able to go on without having me around to support them. I measure the success of my work by the ability of people that I worked with to keep leading the transformation without me being around.

In this article, we will talk about how progressive leaders can succeed by playing the long game.

What is the long game?

As a leader, you have the ability to play the long game with people. This means that you are not obsessed with only getting quick results and being upset when your team makes mistakes.

It is about trying different things and encouraging the members of your team to do the same. It is also about being OK with them if they do not succeed right away.

Playing the long game is also about finding time to take a closer look at yourself and your leadership game. This is not something that you can change overnight. You will need to try different things to build or find your new and improved leadership game.

How can I start playing the long game?

You can start by teaching your people to have conversations and to support each other. Learn how to give feedback that makes people want to do better. Have your team choose what they want to work on and ask what they need to help them get there.

One part of this is also helping your team develop accountability. It is not just about calling people out, it is also about offering constructive help and support. Hold yourself and your team accountable for supporting others to achieve what they want to work on.

You can also create safe spaces for your team to learn and experiment with new things. This can be a meeting where they get to practice their communication, or a project where they get to try a new task.

The trick to developing your long game

It is crucial to remember that playing the long game is not about doing you or your team playing their part perfectly from that point on.

Choose something that you want to work on in your leadership game. This should be something you cannot master immediately. On the contrary, it should be something deep that has the potential to alter your leadership journey.

The trick I have for you is this: it should be clear to everyone that the point is to be imperfect. The point is for you and your team to be able to talk about it and support each other to reach that personal goal.

At first, people may be shy of holding each other accountable, but over the course of time, these conversations will become normal and even welcome between colleagues.


The whole point of playing the long game is to build capacity together with your team. People need to learn to hold each other accountable and receive feedback constructively.

You should also take some time to look at your own leadership game and see how it needs to shift in order to make this learning process possible with your team.

Keep in mind that you need to be flexible in this process. This blog article is meant to give you a starting place. You should learn as you go and experiment to see what works for your own team.

In doing so, your team can learn to play the long game together.

What is something new that you could start doing with your team members? How could playing the long game create powerful change in your organization?