We sat through several hours of cold drizzle and edge-of-our-seats football to be present when our beloved Cowboys (the O State variety) won against the Cougars in double overtime. College football overtime rules state that no game can end in a tie. Both teams will possess the ball until one of them stops the other from scoring. In other words, there are no win-win scenarios in college football, only win-lose ones.

That is not how we want to live, though. We like the concept of a win-win. We want there to be a possibility that no one must lose for us to move forward. What does it take to create a culture where a win-win is possible? It takes a different kind of overtime, intentional gratefulness, and trust.

Overtime is by definition “extra time.” This means extra effort. Having a win-win culture will require overtime, not so one person or group can outmaneuver the other, but so the difficult work of finding common ground and reasonable exchanges can occur. The result of the normal play clock is often a situation where someone is benefiting at the expense of someone else. It takes extra effort to create a better outcome.

It is easy to create margin in a business by underpaying employees and cutting corners where safety and quality are concerned. It takes extra effort to find efficiencies and make investments that allow people to receive winning compensation and benefits for their contribution to the organization. It is easy to boss people around. It takes extra effort to lead well by communicating, listening, and trusting the team.

Gratefulness is easy when everything is going our way. It’s no stretch to be grateful when I get what I want. Intentional gratefulness is choosing to be grateful when things aren’t exactly the way I want. It is a choice to see a bigger picture and support decisions that mean I get less of what I want so everyone can get some of what they want—not in a begrudging way, but willingly.

Win-win is always a compromise. It is a form of sharing. Remember when you were little, and an adult told you to share something you were playing with? In the moment, it did not seem like a great deal. However, a little later, when you wanted a turn with something someone else had, you became a big fan of sharing. That’s how win-win works. We give so we can get.

Without trust, none of this works at all. The only way anyone would work harder and be willing to share the rewards is that they trust the people around them to do the same. This starts with leadership (as does the rest). The people a leader serves are asking some very important questions: Can you lead me? Do you care about me? Can you maintain a we-not-me perspective?

This is another overtime moment. People will not judge you by your intentions; they will judge you by the impact of your behavior. Over time, (see what I did there?) people will know whether you have their best interests in mind or your own. If you win while they lose, they will know they have to look out for themselves (see The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting). However, if people believe they belong to a team that will serve their interests equitably, there is really no limit to what can be accomplished.

A win in college football is exciting for the fans of the winning team. A win in real life is only inspiring if it benefits everyone involved. Everything a leader does matters. People will assign meaning to actions based on their experience. This is why, as a leader, I cannot experience my best life unless the people around me are experiencing theirs. Leaders who are willing to put in the overtime, demonstrate their gratefulness, and trust their team create win-win cultures and lead the Bison Way.