Leading Across: From Competing to Completing


How can you avoid the negative consequences of competition and still use it to fuel success and innovation?

Leading peers can be tricky since you’re simultaneously cooperating with and competing against them. For example, athletes on the same team contend for a limited number of positions in the starting lineup, yet compete together on game day. Musicians within an orchestra vie for the first chair, but then harmonize their talents to delight audiences with their music. Coworkers jockey for prestigious assignments but afterwards combine their skills to advance the mission of the organization.

Healthy work environments depend on competition and cooperation. Both are necessary in order to win. Either too much competition or a deficiency of it can damage team dynamics. In an overly competitive work culture, the natural antagonism of competition turns teammates into enemies and deters cooperation. Conversely, in an environment absent of competition, the aversion to conflict snuffs out critical thinking and stifles initiative.

Arriving at suitable levels of competitiveness at work begins by acknowledging that competition has benefits and drawbacks.

The Upside of Competition

1) Competition provides feedback. Until we match our skills against a competitor, we seldom know the extent of our strengths and weaknesses.

2) Competition calls forth our best efforts. Runners don’t set world records in practice; they break them when racing against other elite athletes. 

The Downside of Competition

1) Competition can become personal. We use the phrase “friendly competition,” but oftentimes competition is anything but friendly and ends up fueling personal animosities.

2) Competition can warp our view of success and failure. In a culture obsessed with winning, we can be tempted to measure our self-worth by the outcome of competition.

Completing Instead of Competing

To have the most influence with your peers, put completing fellow leaders ahead of competing against them. Endeavor to make your teammates better instead of trying to prove that you’re the best. If you spend time adding value to peers, you’ll eventually become very valuable to them. The following tips will aid you in adopting a healthy perspective on competition in the workplace:

  • Switch your standard of comparison. We tend to compare ourselves to other people, when we should compare ourselves to our potential.

“I'm not in competition with anybody but myself. My goal is to beat my last performance.” ~ Celine Dion

  • Reevaluate your definition of success and failure. First, resist the temptation to define yourself by wins and losses. We can only control the effort we put in, not the outcomes we experience. Second, move from an individual to collective notion of accomplishment. Rather than being solely preoccupied with personal advancement, learn to see success as helping others to victory.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” ~ John Wooden

“You will accomplish more in the next two months, developing a sincere interest in two people than you will accomplish in the next two months, trying to get two people interested in you.” ~ Tim Sanders

  • Adopt an abundance mindset. There are many lanes on the highway to success. Search for win-win partnerships with fellow coworkers in which you both stand to gain something valuable. Sharing resources or lending assistance to others enriches rather than impoverishes you. 

“The more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to…rather than detracts from…our lives.” ~ Stephen Covey

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