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Playing to Secure Our Next Move​

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​My six-year-old son is fiercely competitive. He loves games and rivalries of all sorts, sometimes even making a competition out of the simplest things, such as who can buckle his or her seatbelt the fastest upon getting into the vehicle. 

Recently, my husband and I introduced our son to the game Connect Four, thinking it would be a fun, wholesome game to add to our mix of family activities. As we spent the better part of a rainy afternoon playing Connect Four a few weeks ago, I once again observed my son's competitive side come to life. It struck me how similar his competitive streak and strategy to winning are to situations that I encounter regularly in my internal audit career.

When playing games with my son, it sometimes is tempting to take it easy on him and let him win. However, in our family, we have decided that it is good for him to learn early that sometimes you lose, even when you try your hardest. 

Let's be honest: As much as everyone would always like to be a winner, in reality, it doesn't always work that way. That said, I realize that because my husband and I don't take it easy on our son, it challenges him to try even harder to beat his parents. 

This is similar to positioning ourselves or our team members for stretch assignments. Although stretch assignments may not always go as smoothly as we envision, ultimately, they make all of us better professionals and provide opportunities for additional growth and development.

Watching my son's competitive streak come to life over the course of our recent Connect Four game, I witnessed that he often was playing strictly to secure his next move. The downfall of this approach is that it limits his ability to develop an awareness of the potential moves that his opponent may take and ultimately play to defend against those moves, while also keeping the longer-term objective in mind. As I have given this some additional thought, several similarities come to mind with what can sometimes happen in a professional environment.

One similarity that often arises is in conversations in which one party is focused more on his or her response or hearing what that person wants to hear rather than truly listening to what the other person is trying to communicate. As Steven Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Obviously, there are multiple drawbacks associated with this approach. One drawback is that in our professional world, it impairs our ability to communicate with and ultimately build strong relationships with our co-workers, audit customers, and other stakeholders. A further downfall to this approach from a communication perspective is that we may not leave the lines of communication open to create an environment in which our clients and stakeholders feel comfortable sharing potential issues, risks, and concerns with us because they may think we don't care.

Likewise, when we are playing to secure our next move versus watching what is going on around us, it may create situations in which we miss risks that are right in front of us because we are spending too much time thinking about risks much farther down the horizon. While future risks are certainly critical for us to keep on our radar, we shouldn't do this at the expense of missing the risks that are directly in front of us. These include those risks that we may encounter in the coming weeks and months versus those that are longer term. Further, it is important to consider how certain events and situations may change the trajectory or velocity of a more immediate risk.

Those who know me know that my husband and I try to create the right environment for our child to learn and grow, succeed and fail, and try again. We use our family game nights as an opportunity to have fun while helping our son learn. Remarkably, though, I often learn just as much in the process. Fortunately, this learning enables me to return to my internal audit work with a fresh perspective.

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