Both strategies can add value.
Cooperation allows for synergy while competition fosters invention and choice. But many people think of cooperation and competition as mutually exclusive opposites.
We often deem competition “bad” or destructive and cooperation “good” and constructive. However, neither cooperation nor competition can exist without the other. They’re equally useful forces that co-exist in equilibrium.
So, how is it that common opinion has come to sheath competition in negativity and controversy?
In my experience, business people often label certain business behavior as “competitive,” which isn’t that at all. It’s antagonistic. And this mistake weighs heavily on both performance and spirit.
Here’s an example: When he was younger, a teacher of mine demanded of himself that he graduate with the highest grade point average in his college class. He then identified his closest competitors, discovered what courses they were taking, and checked out all the library books they would need to succeed. Now, that’s antagonistic!
Based on dictionary entries and my own observation of world-class competitors at work, my definition of “competitive” is simply, “striving together.”
Sadly, somewhere in our history — maybe because we’ve used war as a metaphor for business — “competitive” has taken on a meaning closer to “striving to eliminate.”
Every day I hear people in business speak of competitors with disdain, sarcasm, contempt, and cynicism. Their coworkers chuckle and call this behavior an exercise of “the old competitive spirit.”
From my viewpoint, such behavior only demonstrates antagonism. And in my experience, antagonism is incapable of producing the sustainable, high performance needed to compete successfully in the marketplace. (See last week’s Leadership Skills: Don’t Rally the Team to Beat the “Enemy”).
I’ve heard executives give motivational speeches about how they hate the competition. Yet when I ask those same employers how many of them would like to work for an organization that advertises antagonism as a core value, no one ever raises a hand.
If you think about it, expressing contempt for a competitor who’s pursuing the same quest as you denigrates your own goals.
My teacher realized this after winning his grade-point title. He was embarrassed and disgusted by his hurtful tactics. Dedicating himself to a higher level of personal behavior — one that honors himself and his competitors — he went on to build a business, amass a personal fortune, and then found a business school to teach entrepreneurs how to play “above the line” and win.
Competitors with Leadership Gift skills respect, revere, admire, honor, and even love their competition. Try it. It’s truly a strong place to stand.
Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Leadership Gift Stretch
Reflect on the state you call your “competitive spirit.” How can you distinguish it from antagonism?
Explore the distinctions. They may be subtle. But they’re powerful and important.
I welcome your comment — share your insights or ask a question about this blog post below.
Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.
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