Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
A popular saying in sports today is that iron sharpens iron. Meaning that competition can be used to push each other to improve, and you need to surround yourself with others who want to get better. When both people are committed to growth, they recognize challenges as opportunities and not obstacles.
Competitive people can be found everywhere in life. It’s obvious when you see them participating in an athletic event, but they are also recognizable when playing cards, sitting in a classroom or at the workplace. I absolutely love having those competitive people on my teams - whether I’m coaching sports or working on a project at work. They want to win and winning is typically fun! Most people who have been part of a successful team know what collaboration and cooperation to work towards an aligned goal feels like. Knowing that your teammate will support you and have your back when the challenges get tough, helps drive you forward with greater energy than you would have faced it alone. I have found it to be easier to focus the competitive spirit of a person than to try and instill it in someone to whom it is not natural.
There is a line between being competitive and being overly competitive. While it typically is easy to see, sometimes the competitiveness is simply misdirected. Instead of competing alongside or with your team, they start competing against a teammate. Their desire to “win” as they define it becomes greater than the “win” as you, the leader or the team has defined.
As leaders, coaches, and parents it’s our job to recognize when the focus of their competitiveness changes and work to realign their goals and understand their role on the team. If you are a member of the team and you recognize that a teammate is more focused on them winning than the team winning, then it is also on you to help create an environment in which the person can contribute and feel the benefit of the team win to the same degree that they would feel the individual win. When people have a shared vision of success, it’s easier to align and use the 3 Pillars of Impact to get there.
How to Make Sure You Compete With and Not Against Teammates
Communicate - The 3 Pillars are founded on the ability to communicate. If you can’t deliver expectations, or positively challenge, or show appreciation, the team is destined for failure before they have even begun. Share your vision and ask others about their vision. Share feedback and ask questions. If you have opened dialogue when times are good, that door will be open if you need to talk when times are tough.
Humility - Nobody is bigger than the team. The Hall of Fame and Super Bowl winning Coach, Tony Dungy, asked in his book Mentor Leader, “Am I prepared to have great success and not get any credit for it?” If you are more worried about your individual success than the team success, then maybe you might be contributing to the problem. Don’t add to the need of another to compete with you.
Encourage - Everyone likes to win. To be recognized. Encourage the behavior that is needed. Compliment them when they play the role that the team needs them to play. Competitive people especially need to know that they contribute. While it may be against their nature to play a different role, if they can see the value and feel the recognition and reward of performing that role, then they will jump in headfirst.
Align - Talk to everyone about the shared vision. Reinforce the roles in which people are at their best but more than that, talk about how the roles help the team move towards the vision. If everyone is talking about the vision, it’s much easier to correct misalignments and reinforce that it is the vision of the team and not an individual.
Demonstrate - Walk the walk. Be the teammate and coworker that you want to see in others. Follow the principles and work towards the vision. It’s easy to point out the faults in others while not living up to the same values.
It’s normal to see people jockey for position. Friendly competition can be helpful and invigorating when used appropriately and kept in perspective. But when our egos get involved and we start measuring our worth and value versus others is when it becomes dangerous to success. It is not always an ego or jealousy situation but instead part of a person’s own self-assessment. In my post Why Your Opponent is Your Best Teacher, I pose the question of why you run your race. To beat the person next to you or to run it as fast as you can.
It’s understandable that individuals can lose sight of the greater objective when they have a competitive nature. They misplace their focus as well as mistaking the feeling of competition or challenge as something to be defeated instead of used to fuel continued growth. Whether you are the leader or a member of the team, alignment of the individuals on the team to the shared vision as well as the acceptance of the roles each team member plays towards that success will be vital to mutual success. Competing alongside and not against each other is how teams will have success Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.