My son would be the first to say that I use the phrase “skin in the game” a lot, ok…too much for his taste. But as they say, if it works don’t fix it, right? I do believe strongly in the concept: that everyone has to have something at stake in a venture so that everyone is equally invested in the outcome. Far too often when I am in a project where there isn’t skin in the game, the results are never up to expectation and resentment runs high, because in terms of distribution of responsibility some work, some take credit, and some do nothing. Why nothing? Because at the end of the day some are focused only on the carrot of profit rather than on a bottom line need for performance.
I just recently found out where the phrase originated: Warren Buffet. That surprised me — only because I thought it was a much older saying. In the quote Mr. Buffet is referring to corporations where “high-ranking insiders” buy stock using their own money in the companies they are running. Its the clearest example of putting money on the line to ensure that all are focused on outcomes.
Lets take this quote to the next level, shall we?
While I agree with the simple statement at face value and have used it to help my business and clients, I have adopted a broader meaning for the phrase. The game is your business, your profession, your life. That much stays the same. But skin takes on an acronym of meaning:
You gotta have/put S.K.I.N. in the game.
S: STRENGTHS — As leaders, all must focus on your core strengths: those which draw people to you and that truly define why you vs. your competition. You can’t be invested If you are not tapping into your core strengths, you cannot fully invest your time and energy in the outcome of you endeavors. If you don’t know your strengths, you need to!
K: KINDNESS — For all of you who say business is for sharks, I would say “have a short stay at the top”. True, the stereotype of ruthless business leaders stepping over those below to get to the corner office is far too often lauded. But loyalty, trust, confidence and honor are built on kindness, as is the ability to relate to others as equals and not stepping stones. Mr. Buffett is a true example of this. Real leaders exemplify this trait. Do you? Everyday?
I: INSTINCT — It is not enough to rely on data. At the end of the day putting it “all in” is a gut reaction. You have to hone and rely on your instincts. If your gut isn’t willing to work hard because you believe in your trajectory, trust me … your worker brain won’t either. This gut check allows you to participate without hesitation. I’m not saying you don’t evaluate and think through scenarios, but once your instinct signs off, you dive fully and participate in the process.
N: NEW — This is where the other three coalesce. You cannot rely on what others are doing, and you cannot grow through status quo. If you are going to grow you have to think in new ways. Innovation, Disruption, Growth, Engagement — however you term it, all are based on pushing out of your comfort zone and into something creative and energetic. It’s why true innovators think (and do) differently. Why put anything in the game if you can’t make it unique?
This is all common sense to some, but truly foreign to many. Putting S.K.I.N. in the game is how real growth happens. Phoning it in might work for a while, but you will never be who and what you want to be unless you throw your whole selves into what you are passionate about achieving.
While I am in awe of Warren Buffett’s financial acumen, I don’t believe it happened because of the cash itself. I believe he demonstrates the critical S.K.I.N. needed to excel. This isn’t a silly leadership tool, it truthfully helps any person, any business evaluate direction and priority. And if its good enough for Warren Buffett, its good enough for me, and for you!
I am working every day on this personally and professional. As are my partners and clients. So the question to answer is: are you? I’m excited to speak with you to hear how and if needed, help you dive into your S.K.I.N. acronym for success!
Patrick Jager is CEO of strategic advisory firm CORE Innovation Group and a thought leader in media, communications and business development.