Playing to Win: Identifying Your Change Disposition

Navigating the whitewater of change seems to be the number one challenge of our times. Trying to convince individuals, families, businesses, and congregations that change is happening is like trying to convince the sun it is yellow. Some things are so obvious, they are not worth debating.

Given this, I’m fascinated by the native disposition of those experiencing change, toward the change. Through our leadership coaching and congregational consulting, we are regularly presented with individual leaders, plus groups of people facing adaptive change. These people and people groups seem to carry a particular perspective, or disposition through which they assess and evaluate the challenges before them.

I’ve been curious how much of this “change disposition” is physiological, emotional, or spiritual (as if we could divide ourselves according to these categories). Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, confirm that a biology does influence whether they perceive change as an energizing challenge or a discouraging threat. On the other hand, they, along with many others, describe one’s perspective on change as multi-layered.

So I’ve been gathering a list. This list contrasts two orientations, dispositions, or perspectives when it comes to succeeding or failing in the face of change. People tend to lean toward one side of this list or the other, developing a “change disposition” over time. In fact entire congregations tend to approach adaptive change from their preferred side of this list (though unconsciously).

Success oriented -------- Failure avoidant
Continuous risk-taking------Avoiding costly mistakes
Playing to win---------Playing not to lose
Intensification of effort--------Conservation of effort
Approaching the challenge--------Avoiding the challenge
Taking initiative----------Pulling back
Gain oriented---------Loss prevention oriented
Learns from mistakes and moves on-------------Dwells on mistakes as if terminal
Driven to by desire to achieve-----------Driven by desire to avoid failure

One can see how these factors combine together to form an orientation or disposition. Unfortunately, we encounter too many congregations living life in the defensive mode, afraid more losses will come along. Predictably, their response strategy includes most actions on the right side of this list. Predictably as well, they leave little room for faith and hasten their demise by these fear-based activities.

On the other hand, there are some individuals and congregations who are caught up in the powerful flow of the gospel. They are riding the current of God’s strength, engaging the challenges with hope and faith. Certainly life is not easy for them, but they are the ones who are far more likely to adapt to this changing world. May their tribe increase…and may we be found among them.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Contact Mark at 803-673-3634 or